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Maria Gutzeit: The costs of delivering clean water

Posted: August 30, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: August 30, 2012 2:00 a.m.

About the only visible evidence that we live among a large complex of water pumps, water pipes, valves and various other pieces of water infrastructure are either the large tanks you see on hills or that small water meter cover outside your house.

If you live in the Newhall County Water District, one of four water retailers in the Santa Clarita Valley, there are 155 miles of pipelines, 15 booster stations, 11 wells, treatment systems, 25 tanks and reservoirs and the many people who maintain them — all constantly working behind the scenes to deliver clean water to more than 44,000 people.

These vital assets were built up over time and represent well-planned, long-term investment in a reliable supply of water for the future. Yet when discussions come up about the current or future costs of water, little attention is paid to the price of this “overhead” of a water district.

Local water districts work to keep their rates low, but that doesn’t mean we can stop watching the bottom line. If we’re all efficient, both as agencies and as customers in the community, we can keep costs low.

Water supplies have two kinds of costs: fixed and variable.

If you don’t use any water, the water district still bears the responsibility and the costs to have adequate water — both in terms of volume and pressure — available for firefighting and to meet demand when you do want to use it.

Fixed costs include the expense of maintaining tanks, pipes, pumps and monitoring equipment, as well as paying for accounting and reporting requirements. To some extent, if no one used any water, overhead costs would go down, but they would not go away.

The other cost — one that seems to get more attention — deals with supplies, or the variable portion. These expenses include electricity to pump water, water treatment costs and the price the district pays to purchase water provided through the State Water Project.

It is always cheaper to pump local groundwater — paying for water from the California Aqueduct is about 4.5 times more costly. But like most of California’s urban communities, the Newhall County Water District relies on these aqueducts to meet the daily demands for water as supplements to their local supplies.

Local water agencies have joined together to ensure that polluters pay for fixes to perchlorate pollution from the Whittaker-Bermite site — a costly situation affecting some of our local groundwater.

And some, like Newhall County, secure grant funds to optimize electrical use.

What can you do to keep your costs low? In our area, the largest use of water is typically landscaping.

As you plan projects around your home, consider ways to reduce landscape’s water needs such as using low-water plants and “hardscaped” features — tile and concrete — instead of vegetation.

Be sure to visually check all your sprinklers several times a year to look for damage or leaks. One sheared-off sprinkler head can waste nearly 1,000 gallons a month — most of it running down the gutter. Why would you pay for water you are not using?

While you’re at it, turn your sprinkler timers down to about four minutes — your soil stops absorbing water after that and it becomes excess running down the sidewalk. (Tip: Do two or three four-minute cycles timed about 30 minutes apart to give your landscape the full amount of water it needs). And when fall arrives, don’t forget to shorten the water cycle, since the days are shorter.

Indoors? Little plumbing leaks can add up to big costs. Some estimates indicate that half of American households have at least one leaking toilet.

One leaking toilet can waste 250 gallons or more a day and add more than $20 to your monthly bill.

Whether it’s the plumbing in your house and yard — your own personal infrastructure, if you will — or the large, backbone system of a water district, water systems can run smoothly and cost-effectively with vigilant maintenance and attention.

Maria Gutzeit is a Santa Clarita Valley resident and president of the Newhall County Water District.


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