To commission: Stop water boarding responsible customers and dry out the water hogs

 Better pass the hat around the dugout! Cough it up, Derek-- one at-bat's worth of pay. C'mon, Alex-- one Saturday night's bar tab of free drinks for the "ladies." That should cover it.

Unfortunately, in a nanosecond that microscopic shred of justice was sent to the compost heap when Pinellas County Utilities proposed this week to raise water and sewer rates from 5 to 11 percent, starting October 1st. The reason for the big increases? Since justice in the universe seems more fleeting than subatomic particles smashing in a supercollider, Pinellas County Utilities can't let a good deed go unpunished. The reason? Pinellas water customers conserved too much this year! Now the county has to make up lost revenues.

Didn't they want us to conserve lots of water during the draught? Didn't they make us water only once a week, stop washing our car or stop power-washing the mildew off our homes? As an advocate of sustainability, I absolutely supported these measures.

It's this punishment of success that causes me to foam at the mouth like a "tea bagger" at a town hall meeting. I call it the "water boarding" of responsible Pinellas citizens who conserve our resources.

[image-1]In the first place, Pinellas County Utility customers pay much more for water than their counterparts in Tampa, about twice as much in fact. (Why that is I won't get into now.) As a percentage, these increases in each fee category appear to affect every customer across the board, whether they are modest users or outrageous water pigs.

I propose a simple, straightforward and fair solution. Don't touch the rates of moderate, responsible customers - leave their rates where they are or even reduce them. Then for bigger users, create a steep sliding scale of rates, so these piggies pay much more as their use becomes increasingly bloated. This arrangement will reward the responsible citizens, provide a cost disincentive for the water pigs and keep up revenue for the utilities if the scale is correctly chosen.

It's the utility that proposes the rate scheme, and it's the county commissioners who must approve it. The commission will make a decision on the proposal in September.

My wife and I have already realized that water resources in central Florida will become more stressed over time, and the long term cost trend will go increasingly up. At our Palm Harbor home we are converting our yard, a traditional St. Augustine spread, into a sustainable, "Florida-friendly" landscape with native grasses, plants, and flowers.  It should cut our water use by 60%.  (I won't even get into the other benefits like fewer pesticides and less fertilizer to run off into our waterways.)


I believe a big obstacle to this kind of solution will be the big special interests - the heavy commercial users and the big homeowners who shell out campaign contributions to the commissioners. Are the utility and county commissioners captured by these powerful interests? Or can they ignore the squealing when the water pigs and their overuse are more decisively challenged?

So join me in sending this message to the commission: "Stop water boarding responsible citizens, and dry out the water pigs!"

I thought the fuel injectors on my Jetta Diesel were pricey, until I saw what the Tampa Water Department recently charged the Yankees for a new water meter at George Steinbrenner Field - $42,000. According to the department , the fee is based on the amount of water that passes at peak demand. Water guzzlers are more expensive. Sounds fair to me, given we are supposed to be conserving water.

The Yankees didn't like the fee so they asked the department to waive the charge. Shoot - why didn't I think of that when I recently had my fuel injectors serviced at a dealer?  "Hey these injectors are a rip off. Can you just waive the installation?" Right. I guess that's why George Steinbrenner is the multi-billionaire, and I write for blogs.

 This week my faith in a universe that might contain a microscopic shred of justice was restored, for a brief, exquisite moment, when the water department turned down the Yankee's request.  They pay full boat, like everyone else.

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