Apr 17, 2023 - News

Ask Axios: Ecological incentives for conserving water

Illustration of an otter with a word balloon with a question mark in it coming out of its mouth.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Question: If there’s no long-term economic incentive to conserve water in Richmond, are there ecological reasons? Because it seems like we have plenty of water in our region.

Background: This question comes in response to a recent statement by the city’s Department of Public Utilities, which told city council members last month that decreasing water usage has been forcing it to raise rates.

  • That’s because most of the city’s utility costs stay the same regardless how much water or gas moves through the system.
  • The Richmond Free Press dug into the issue last summer, finding water consumption has dropped about 30% since 1999 while water rates have risen almost 300%.

Answer: So, if we’re just going to end up paying more for less water, is there an environmental reason to cut back?

  • It’s still a good practice, but not really an issue unless there’s a drought warning in effect, which is rare in the region, says Justin Doyle, the community conservation manager at the James River Association.

Yes, but: The biggest environmental impact residents can have is taking steps to reduce stormwater with things like rain barrels and permeable landscaping, he says.

  • That reduces pressure on the city’s combined sewer system, which overflows during storms, dumping rainwater mixed with sewage into the river.
  • And on that front, there’s also an economic incentive: Install a rain barrel or rain garden, and you can apply for a credit on your utility bill.
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