Please Hold for the Next Representative

Spending 25 minutes on the water department’s “emergency line” is the least of my problems when it comes to energy conservation.

I hate the water department. There, I've said it and there's no going back. While I live in fear of retaliation — and $64,000 water bills like one recently received by a friend — I had to get that off my chest.

Why do I hate it? Let me count the ways…

  • A 2-week-long water main relining project, for which water has been diverted from the main lines and hooked up to our homes and businesses via glorified garden hoses, is now on its sixth week and showing no signs of ending.

  • The connection in front of my house blew around 5 a.m. a week ago. Water shot through my open front windows, drenching my living room and its inlaid hardwood floors before I woke up and ran downstairs and shut the windows. The temporary lines have been blowing out on a daily basis, leaving parts of the neighborhood without water while creating geysers that threaten cars and homes.

  • Today, during the above-mentioned call to the emergency line, I was told that the open hydrant in front of my house that's been draining thousands of gallons of water into the street for 4 days is the responsibility of a contractor, not the water department. “Thank you for calling Water. Good-bye.”

Considering how much we pay for water and sewer services — an amount that is scheduled to rise fairly precipitously in the next few months in an effort to convince people to conserve water — watching that hydrant drain is like watching money get flushed down the toilet.

I conserve water. I have low-flow toilets, water-conserving showerheads, an energy- and water-efficient washing machine and two rainbarrels. I also have a bioswale in my front yard where water from a downspout is diverted, and flower beds and paving stones instead of concrete in my backyard.

So while the water department now is forcing residents to install rain barrels to divert water from downspouts and charging consumers based on how much runoff their concrete driveways and patios create, it knowingly is wasting water. Its approach with customers, shall we say, has been more stick than carrot. “Oh, I get a 25 percent discount for a rain barrel; that's great. Oh wait, my water bill is rising 100 percent. That's not so great.”

This is true of our electricity provider as well. It was ordered to educate consumers about reducing electricity use. It decided the best way to do that was to raise rates and to “give” each of us three (3) compact fluorescent bulbs, for which we would be charged a total of $21.60 over the next 3 years. The fee for the “giveaway” was to cover the cost of the bulbs ($3.50 each), pay for the cost of delivery and to reimburse the utility for the phantom cost of delivering the power consumers would have used if they didn't have them.

Huh? I already use these bulbs in every fixture in my house and I pay considerably less than $3.50 a bulb. I also have lights on timers, smaller appliances plugged into power strips that can be shut off to conserve energy and energy-efficient appliances to reduce my electricity use. I can't afford the “free” bulbs!!

I'm resigned to the fact that the water company is going to charge me more for water and sewer services even though I'm using less water and creating less wastewater. I know that one way or another, the electric company is going to charge me for electricity I don't use.

While my small efforts at sustainability don't matter much in the grand scheme of things and certainly aren't rewarded by my utility companies, I will continue to make them. I don't do it because I'm saving money — because I obviously am not — I'm doing it because if everyone did it, the world would be a better place. There would be less waste and we might be able to buy ourselves enough time to find solutions to some of our energy challenges.

I still hate the water company though.


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