In my morning newspaper, I came across a hardware store flyer advertising a great new innovation – toilet with pump! Essentially, along with your regular toilet, an additional water storage tank and pump is installed that allows you to store recycled water used from your sink, tub, or shower and then use it when you flush.
It is an excellent idea for promoting additional stewardship and environmental responsibility with respect to our water resources. I actually think I recently saw something about it or something similar on Dragon’s Den. In that episode, the innovator promoting the device said it would save you about 250 dollars a year on your water bill by reducing the water consumption. Given that this device appears to retail from 870 to 1000 dollars, it means that it could pay for itself in about four years.
However, the problem is that most of my water bill these days does not consist of consumption charges but rather fixed charges. I suspect it may be the same in a lot of other places in Canada. Take the example of the water bill. I decided to go back and look at my household water bills and usage for the period 2000-2011. Figure 1 shows my total household usage over the period 2000-2011. Figure 2 shows the component charges for my water bill while Figure 3 is the total bill.
The bill is divided into three components – a consumption charge, a sewer charge and a fixed charge which it turns out has been anything but fixed lately. Despite the overall downward trend (we actually consumed less in 2011 than 2000 even with growing teenagers during this period), our household consumption of water has grown since 2004. The overall downward trend is especially being driven by the 2002 outlier observation. In 2002, there was a leaky toilet which we then fixed. We’ve averaged about 241 cubic meters per year over the period 2000 to 2011 (including 2002). Over the period 2000 to 2011, consumption declined by 8.4 percent though from 2004 to 2011 it rose 18 percent.
Over the period 2000 to 2011, my consumption charge has increased 62 percent, my sewer charge 152 percent and my “fixed charge” by 337 percent. Figure 3 adds all the charges up and between 2000 and 2011, my annual water bill has increased by 134 percent. In 2000, the proportion of my water bill emanating from consumption/usage was 48 percent while in 2011 it was 34 percent. Given that the charge for consumption alone in 2011 was 278 dollars out of a total of 824 dollars, I have my doubts I can save 250 dollars on my total bill – about 30 percent - by installing this device and reducing my consumption.
It’s not that the toilet pump water recycling device is not a good idea. It’s just that over the long term I have not been ramping up water consumption to the point where there can be substantial savings from reducing water consumption. The need to replace aging water mains and associated infrastructure – look at what happened in Montreal the other day – will result in escalating fixed charges and other special charges that divorce the water bill from consumption. This however actually erodes the incentive to conserve. The fact is that there is little economic incentive for installing devices that conserve water if most of the charge is “fixed” and there is relatively little correlation between use and what you pay. Moreover, I don’t know about you, but I’m almost afraid to consume less water. If we all used less it could result in municipal revenue drop that I think would be dealt with either with a rate increase or would result in yet another fixed charge. No doubt, our municipal overlords could creatively title the new fee a “Revenue Retention Charge”.