By Mark Scharfenaker, Denver resident
Last week I paid $70 for 750ml of a nice single malt scotch whiskey (should fuel me for a few weeks), $45 for 13 gallons of gas (should fuel my car for about a week) and $4 for 3 gallons of bottled water (slaked my thirst during three days of deer hunting in the juniper hills above the Yampa River).
These liquid purchases came to mind when I stumbled on an excellent article in the Winter 2013 issue of CFWE’s Headwaters on the rising price of tap water, where typical rates in Colorado have about doubled in the last decade, according to the author, CFWE staffer Caitlin Coleman.
That made me pull out my last Denver Water bill, which was $32 for 6,000 gallons of water that arrived at my home every minute of every day in October after its descent from high mountain reservoirs through many miles of conveyance conduit to a modern, secure treatment plant that made it safe to drink (and taste good, to boot!).Was the price too high? Not enough? Just right? What the heck did I get last month for about the price of a bag of dog food?
- Glorious hot showers every morning at the turn of a valve!
- Clean teeth and a close shave every day with the flip of a faucet!
- Countless clean clothes and dishes at the touch of a button!
- Blessed moisture from our ever-churning humidifier!
- Many daily flushes of each of two Denver Water-subsidized low flow toilets, at the twist of a handle (how can we even begin to put a fair price on this incredibly undervalued service?)
- Healthy house plants and happy pets!
- And the year-round opportunity to fish the aptly-named Dream Stream, a world-class stretch of big-trout tailwater between Aurora Water’s Spinney and Denver Water’s Eleven Mile Reservoirs!
Coleman’s article offers this footnoted factoid that is as apparent as it is flabbergasting: “A gallon of bottled water at Safeway goes for $1.29. For the same price Denver Water delivers 498 gallons directly to customers’ homes.”
She goes on to tell the stories of several Colorado water suppliers working hard to convince customers of the need to raise rates (yes, even when we all do our best to use less) to at least match the cost of providing this critical public health service (yes, in too many cases rates don’t do even that, butting up against the lingering inertia of a public long accustomed to relatively trifling water bills).
It’s sometimes hard to comprehend the public disconnect with the true value of this truly precious natural resource and the truly marvelous benefits we all enjoy daily from its virtually uninterrupted delivery to our sinks, showers and toilets.
What is the value of clean and safe water? It is priceless, of course, not only to us but to the environment. How much should it cost? What is a fair rate structure? What is the acceptable percent of our household income that should be dedicated to it? Is the cost of service strictly a local matter, or should some of those costs be shared by state and federal funding sources?
The answers to these questions are elusive, for sure, but you might get closer to them by visiting a new online resource launched this year by a coalition of a dozen public and private members of the water industry, including the Denver-based American Water Works Association (my long-time employer). Their campaign “aims to educate the public on the importance of clean, safe and reliable water to and from every home and community, and to help ensure quality water service for future generations.”
Learn all about it at The Value of Water website.
Mark Sharfenaker has been a writer and editor for the American Water Works Association since 1986 and the AWWA website editor since 2008. He moved to Colorado in 1982 after a 10-year stint in Montana, where he earned an undergraduate degree in Journalism at the University of Montana and learned the joys of fly fishing and the wonders of western waters.