I have very mixed thoughts on the Irvine Ranch Water District’s household water budget scheme for pricing water that some have pointed to as a model for what San Diego should do.

First, the good points of this scheme:

  • It is a major improvement on what San Diego is currently doing.
  • It has the appearance of being fair and rational.
  • The water budget concept gives households some idea of what is a reasonable amount of water for them to use is and the pricing structure is geared toward this concept.
  • The first block of water is priced much lower at about 1/3 of what San Diego is currently charging. It is a much more sharply tiered system than San Diego has and hence encourages conservation.
  • The scheme is not that hard to administratively implement in spite of comments to the contrary by San Diego officials.

Now the bad:

  • The monthly base fixed fee ($7.75) per household is too high but is much better than San Diego’s monthly current base fee of over $17.
  • The tiered structure has five blocks which is still not quite enough.
  • The price jumps of the last two blocks are too steep: The next to last block doubles the price and the final block doubles that one.
  • The “labels” on these last two blocks (excessive and wasteful) are a bit Big Brotherish and you need some households to use more water at high prices to keep the cost down for the larger number of households who do conserve.
  • By basing a large part of the allocation on yard size, the Irvine Ranch is effectively subsidizing fairly heavy water use by single family detached homes at the expense of apartment and condo dwellers.
  • Long term, the Irvine Ranch Water District scheme will slow down a transition toward drought resistant landscaping relative to what a per what a per dwelling unit or per person (implemented via number of bedrooms) scheme would achieve.
  • Larger water budgets are given to households in hotter areas which effectively subsidizes development in such areas. There is a variance procedure that is administratively complicated. It allows households to receive more water if (a) more people are documented in legally acceptable ways as living at the dwelling unit than the standard formula assumes, (b) it is documented that the house has larger amounts of vegetation than was assumed by the standard formula, (c) if medical conditions require more water (but I am not sure exactly how this would come into play), (d) being a licensed day care facility and (e) even for filling swimming pools.


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