As many U.S. communities struggle to support growing populations with limited water resources, very few of them are utilizing water connection charges to increase water savings in new residential developments. A water connection charge is the cost of the actual physical connection to a water system, plus costs for developing new capacity to serve the customer.

A new report by Western Resource Advocates, the University of North Carolina’s Environmental Finance Center, and Ceres, evaluates water connection charges used by 800 public water utilities in the fast-growing states of Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, North Carolina, and Utah. This first-of-its-kind report entitled “Water Connection Charges: A Tool for Encouraging Water-Efficient Growth” found that 93% of the fee structures in the Southeastern states and 62% of the fee structures in the Western states used uniform water connection charges for single-family homes that took no account of key factors in influencing the design of a home’s water footprint. As a result, owners of new homes are typically paying the same amount to be connected to local water systems—whether it’s a large home with a grass lawn or a small home with xeriscape.

However, a handful of communities, most of them in water-parched Colorado, are including water-saving incentives in water connection charges, and the initial results show promise in effectively shaping different residential developments to reduce water use. In the case of Aurora, CO, the state’s third-largest municipality, five of six new developments coming on-line since 2014 used “zero-water” landscaping in order to get a 100% refund on their connection charges. This aligns well with our goal of having water users that commit to conserve pay lower connection charges than those who don’t incorporate efficiency measures.

Western Resource Advocates, Ceres, and the University of North Carolina are recommending that utilities consider using multiple factors such as lot size/irrigated area; types of landscaping (such as low-water-use plants vs. turf grass); efficiency of water fixtures; and house size/ number of bedrooms/bathrooms to determine the connection charges to drive water efficiency. The report also includes four case studies showcasing the effectiveness of multi-factor water connection charges in changing behavior.

We will now take our finding out to utilities throughout the region to encourage water conservation using appropriate connection charges. Our water supplies are limited and great tools like this must be used to ensure we don’t drain western rivers as we grow.
For the Full Report, click here.

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