Charging for Municipal Water
In a questionnaire sent out recently by FIRE AND WATER ENGINEERING, a question was asked as to whether the department receiving the blank supplied water free to other municipal departments, or whether a charge was made for such supply. Replies to this particular question were pretty evenly divided, some answering in the affirmative and others in the negative, showing that the procedure in this respect varies in different cities. In a recent series of recommendations by a superintendent of a certain city not many thousands of miles from New York, he suggested an ordinance to the city council requiring that all water used for street sprinkling by the street cleaning department of the city and for fountains in parks and drinking and refreshment stations under the charge of the park department be paid for by these departments under metered measurement. The object of this, of course, was to increase the revenues of the water department and make it self-sustaining.
At first this plan would seem to entail an unnecessary expenditure of time and money in that it would be, in a measure, “robbing Peter to pay Paul,” but further consideration will show that the proposed plan, which, by the way, is adopted in many cities, as shown by the replies to outquestionnaire, is really nothing of the sort, but a measure that contains the elements of both justice and wisdom.
The expense incident to the use of water by other departments of a municipality, if the service is given free by the water company, really comes out of the pockets of the consumers, or at least those who pay for the use of water. This is true, because if the municipal service is given free the expense incident to the distribution of this water must be divided among the private consumers and necessarily increase the rates which they pay or else the department must end the year with a deficit. In the latter case this must be made up either by general taxation, or by the issuance of bonds. In the former case, that where the private consumer is saddled with the expense of pumpage, etc., necessary to supply the municipal department, an act of injustice is done to those who pay the bills. So it would seem that a much fairer plan to all concerned would be the charging of the municipal departments for the water that they use.
But there is another side to the question and it would seem a rather important one. It is that of conservation. If the public departments of the city are allowed to use water ad libitum and are not in any way held responsible for the amount they use, the result will naturally be, as it is in the case of the private consumer who is supplied on a flat rate basis, that carelessness and prodigality in the use of water will follow. On the other hand, if this water were measured and paid tor by each department, thus appearing on the books as an expense against it, the commissioner, or other head of such department would quickly see to it that his subordinates used more care in the use of water and wasted as little as would be consistent with good service. Thus it would seem from all points of view that the cities that have made provision for the measurement of and payment for water used by other departments to the water department have chosen the wisest course and that which will prove the most economical in the end, both for the city and the water department.