Have you looked at your water bill lately? It is staggering to think that the average water bill for a household of four can be as much as $3,000 per year. Of course, that is a rough estimate. This may not consider the occasional watering of your lawn, or even washing the two vehicles with some regularity. The interesting part is that the water and sewer rates keep rising every year.
So, why are we paying so much for water?
I'll do my best to explain.
Let's go back a few years. Better yet, let's go back a lot of years. If you are under 40 years old, this will make no sense to you. You may want to skip this blog, unless your paying the water bill.
For about 100 years, the City of Boston, and many of the surrounding cities were supplied water by the Metropolitan District Water Commission (MDC). The Commission was established in 1895 by the Massachusetts State Legislature to better provide and expand a clean water supply to the Boston metropolitan area.
During the next century, it was expanded, modified and only 20 years ago significantly restructured into a shadow of what was once a huge enterprise.
Many new federal government regulations in concert with public pressure purged the MDC into a mandatory retrofitting. The combination of bad management decisions complicated by the financial woes in the 1990 state level budget nearly decimated the MDC over a short period of time.
Until 1991, the MDC was so large it even boasted a massive police department with jurisdiction of hundreds of miles of state roadways, and many public facilities. At the time it was one of the state's highest profile authorities.
Today, this police agency, including much of its real estate holdings, does not exist. A massive consolidation plan dissolved three independent policing agencies, the MDC, Registry, and Capitol police to be merged under the Massachusetts State Police Division.
Now, only a memory of the old MDC exists. The swimming pools, ice skating rinks and natural preserves remain in existence under the control of the newly created Division of Conservation and Recreation.
But, let's move on. That's water under the bridge, or, over the dam. Whatever. All joking aside, change was needed.
How did this happen?
Back in the day around the late 70s the MDC water commission never really mastered a good management style over the state water/sewer infrastructure system. On the surface the MDC did a decent job of keeping the clean water flowing, and sewers from clogging up, at more than reasonable rates to the public.
Whose to complain? Back then, many cities charged a flat water fee of $12 a month. If a toilet was running constantly, no problem. It was less expensive to pay for the water than the plumber. But, the sewer bill portion never existed. We just dumped it into the Charles River, or the Boston harbor.
However, we all made a serious miscalculation. We never planned for the future, and that's the rub.
Under former Gov. Mike Dukakis' administration, we fought and ignored the federal mandates to rebuild the infrastructure losing billions of dollars in subsidies. After years of failed legal maneuvering, we are paying the fiddler to the tune of more than 6 billion dollars over the next 40 years. Massachusetts lost the battle with the Feds along with the 90 percent of funding. This one bad decision by our leadership cost us billions and billions in federal subsidies.
The entire system was unable to expand with the new growth into the suburbs. In Boston, high-rise buildings kept growing out of the ground like weeds. Every few days water leaks occurred with higher and higher costs in losses. The Charles River smelt awful. When it rained badly some of the inner city roads flooded with a stench that gave you a stomach ache.
Massachusetts officials finally were forced to do something. So, in 1984 the state legislature enacted the creation of the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority, otherwise known as the MWRA.
It was just in time too. On the federal level, under rising pressure the U.S. Congress kept expanding the existing 1948 Federal Water Pollution Control Act. Many amendments were added in 1972, and later in 1976, with the new naming of the law, as the "Clean Water Act." It wouldn't be long before our dirty little secret about the Boston harbor would become the focus of the nation in the 1988 presidential election.
So, as always we are paying for our past mistakes. For within our current water/sewer rates is the cost of having neglected our public duty to our natural resources, and to ourselves. We occasionally forget that sometimes doing the right thing dosen't have to cost a lot. It may be just about having the will to do it and keeping an open mind.
So, what can we do now?
We can better manage all of our resources starting with everyday conservation of our water supply. A simple modification in our daily behavior, or by employing a few new devices, can shave hundreds of dollars off your annual water bill every year.
Let's teach our children what we have learnt over the years.