The Relationship Between Droughts and Utility Bills

Changing weather patterns coupled with population growth are increasing the risk of drought in drier areas of the country. Recent research has raised questions about the fairness of typical strategies for handling water shortages. Measures such as usage penalties and surcharges do not affect everyone equally.

What is a water drought?

Many regions of the country have a regular cycle of dry and wet seasons. A water drought involves an unusually long period without precipitation. As the drought continues, its impact on the local area grows.

  • Meteorological Drought: At this stage, meteorologists declare a deviation from normal precipitation levels.
  • Agricultural Drought: There is not enough water to grow crops typical to the area.
  • Hydrological Drought: Reservoirs and below-surface water supplies fall below normal.
  • Socioeconomic Drought: Water supplies are insufficient for residents.

Typical Responses to a Water Drought

The first step in water drought responses is conservation. The water utility will instruct local users to reduce their water use, encouraging them to refrain from watering their lawns and shorten their showers. If the shortage continues, these suggestions may become mandatory, and the utility may assess financial penalties for overuse.

To stay profitable during a time of reduced supply, water utilities must often add a surcharge to water bills. This practice can unfairly impact the water costs of low income households.

Droughts and High Income Households

High income households often use more water than other consumers. Wealthier families have lawns, pools, and other water-intensive features. When asked to conserve, they can minimize their unnecessary usage without affecting their day-to-day lives. These users will often see their water costs drop during a drought.

Droughts and Low Income Households

Low income households may see increased water costs when dealing with the surcharges associated with drought responses. These families were already using less water than their high-income counterparts. Since there is a limit to how much they can reduce usage, fulfilling their basic needs becomes more expensive.

Addressing Water Conservation Issues

As droughts become more prolonged and frequent, municipal water authorities must take intentional steps to enhance their water conservation efforts. Taking action when the water supply is adequate will reduce the cost burden on low-income families.

Improved Fixtures and Hardware

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a WaterSense program that identifies products such as low-flow fixtures that decrease regular water use. The local water utility could begin a rebate program that benefits customers who switch their current fixtures.

Address Aging Infrastructure Repairs

Aging infrastructure wastes billions of gallons of water every year. Cracked pipes allow it to flow into the surrounding soil. Burst water mains result in the sudden loss of thousands of gallons, along with service disruptions. Water utilities in drought-prone regions should take a proactive approach to infrastructure repair and replacement to avoid wasted water during dry seasons.

Supplemental Water Supplies

Emerging technologies will allow water utilities to supplement the supply using less traditional sources. In areas near the ocean, improved desalination techniques can produce fresh water with a smaller carbon footprint than older technology.

Reuse is another growing field in the water industry. Techniques for recycling potable and nonpotable water will help communities preserve their supply through extended droughts.

SCADA Technology and Drought Preparation

System control and data acquisition (SCADA) technology will play a vital role in developing drought-ready water systems. SCADA sensors provide real-time performance data that lets technicians know about potential leaks and other maintenance issues. In a supplemental water strategy, the system can automatically switch to a secondary system when needed.

High Tide Technologies designs and implements SCADA systems for municipal water collection, treatment, and distribution systems. Our cloud-based model gives technicians and managers data access at any location on a tablet or handheld device. Immediate knowledge of critical information through our SCADA technology will improve the efficiency and responsiveness of your system.