Why most Angelenos waste water

Our on-going drought was a big part of Gov. Brown’s State of the State speech today.

One of the iron-clad rules of conservation is that people only conserve when they directly feel the cost of not doing so. And yet, in LA, the majority of households do not pay their own water bills, and therefore have zero incentive to conserve water.

Why don’t people pay their own water bills? Because 60% or so of households are renters, most in multi-unit buildings. Very, very few buildings are separately metered for water, so the landlords eat the water bill for the entire building each month.

Why aren’t buildings separately metered for water?

  1. DWP makes it incredibly difficult / impossible to do so for all but the largest buildings; and
  2. Tenants groups would resist a change, because they would be worried about landlords putting this new expense on tenants

But there is an easy solution: Force DWP to institute a program whereby water can be separately metered, just like they already do for electricity and just like the Gas Company does for gas. DWP already charges for new electrical meters; there’s no reason they couldn’t charge for water meters as well. And owners would pay, because even a relatively high upfront cost would be offset by the permanent savings in operating costs.

But what about the tenants? Under the law, you can’t unilaterally change terms of an existing tenancy, so landlords have no right to spring a water bill on tenants while they are in residence. However, if a landlord separately meters his building and a unit turns over, then she can include in the new lease that the tenant will pay for water.

The change outlined above would not correct our conservation problem immediately, since very few units turn over year-to-year. However, over time, as more landlords separately metered their buildings and more units turned-over, we would gradually move from being a city that wastes water to one that conserves it.