The country’s cheapest water is in the West’s driest cities

The country’s cheapest water is in the West’s driest cities

News Type: State, Regional, Federal Source: High Country News
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If water were priced according to demand, many Westerners would be smelly and thirsty. But water is a necessity, and demand-based pricing would be unethical. Instead, many cities rely on block pricing for residential use, charging different amounts for essential water and for additional water. Done right, block pricing should encourage conservation while still letting everyone meet their needs: The cost of essential water, used for basics such as clothes washing, staying hydrated, bathing or cooking, is low, while additional water — say, for growing a lush lawn in the desert — costs more. But according to new research, that’s not the reality across the West.

Economists and a public policy expert at the University of Minnesota who looked into block pricing for water in the nation’s largest urban areas, including 11 Western cities, discovered a pattern they conclude is neither sustainable nor just: Many of the driest cities have the cheapest water prices. What’s more, for households across the West, the average price of water goes down as use goes up.