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Tom Campbell: Drink it like it’s water? Only if it IS water

Posted: March 19, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: March 19, 2013 2:00 a.m.

Maybe you remember when you were a kid and you poured a giant glass of orange juice, and your mother said something like this: "Take it easy! Orange juice is expensive, and you’re drinking it like it’s water!"

Pick your beverage. They’re all, on a gallon-for-gallon basis, much more expensive than a gallon of water from your tap.

Orange juice (let’s round it off to $6 a gallon), milk ($2.49 if you catch a sale), fine wine. ...

Well, fine wine varies. But even Two-Buck-Chuck is $2.49 a bottle now — making the per-gallon price about $12.56, which is 6,280 times more expensive than an average gallon of tap water in California.

The price of water? Statewide, it weighs in at just $0.002 per gallon. That’s two one-thousandths of a dollar. That’s value.

We’ve been thinking about it quite a bit lately at the Castaic Lake Water Agency as we look at water pricing and costs, and as local retailers do the same.

Due to varied factors, some local residents may see their water rates increase in the not-too-distant future. Even then, it would be impossible to argue that water isn’t a bargain, considering its importance to daily life.

That is, we can’t live without it.

And when you pay your water bill, it’s important to remember we’re asking more of our water service than we ever have before. It costs increasingly more to treat water and prepare it for delivery to your tap and, as time passes, all water agencies must repair and replace aging infrastructure to keep it reliable — things like treatment facilities, pipelines, reservoirs and wells.

In 1974, water agencies were responsible for treatment that addressed 22 contaminants. Today, there are 90 contaminants regulated in the water treatment process, which of course increases costs.

Water wholesalers and retailers also incur many of the same expenses as any residences or businesses. Some expenses, like electricity, represent a greater percentage of the cost of water than they do for a typical household.

Also, as the water community looks to new sources of supply to meet California’s needs, additional costs are added to the mix. Options like desalination and recycling can cost twice as much as traditional sources of supply.

Yet water suppliers around the state and here in the Santa Clarita Valley are managing to bring you this precious resource at a cost much lower than other routine household expenses.

That is really surprising when you consider what it takes to deliver water to the tap. There is the cost of the facilities mentioned above, including those that deliver water from as far away as Northern California.

Then it takes a lot of energy to pump that water out of the ground or from up north to get it to your tap.

In fact "moving" water is the single largest energy use in California. To put it in terms of a single household, it takes about 3,800 kilowatt hours to move a year’s worth of water for a family over the Tehachapi Mountains in the California Aqueduct — the equivalent of half the energy an average household uses in a year.

You know how much that costs and we all know how energy costs continue to increase, which puts pressure on the cost of water as well.

Yet the average Californian’s monthly water bill is a bargain at about $53. The average electric bill is $100, and the average cost of cable television is about $70. How much do you pay for your smartphone service every month?

Your daily latte is another good example. Suppose you get a medium, at $3.55 for 16 ounces. Doing the math ... that’s $28.40 a gallon, plus tip.

Or 14,000 times more expensive than water — even with the higher costs of treating and delivering water in 2013.

Meanwhile, let’s all be thankful your car doesn’t drink gasoline like it’s water. At $4.21 a gallon, gasoline is more than 2,000 times as expensive as water.

On the grand scale, we of course advocate an efficiency ethic for all of our resources, including gasoline, water and more.

California’s water supply is limited, there are numerous ongoing issues related to its acquisition and delivery, and careful resource management isn’t just a good idea, it’s our responsibility.

But if you’re thirsty, we’ve got plenty to cover you, every day, at a cost that compares very favorably to every other liquid imaginable.

So go ahead. Fill your glass.

And drink it like it’s water.

Tom Campbell is president of the Castaic Lake Water Agency Board of Directors.


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