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Unintended Consequences

Earlier this month I received a flyer in the mail from Summit Water (my water provider). The top of the flyer screamed:


I live in an area that has a water share associated with my house. Effectively I own the use of 250,000 gallons of water each year. This year I have used about 30% of that amount with a month left in the “water year.” So, it’s safe to say I’m using much less water than allotted.

That doesn’t seem to matter to Summit Water, though. They make a blanket order (which I’m not sure is even legal), during a year where our average precipitation is about 85% of normal (not good but not horrible). It leaves one wondering whether water is more expensive to source (due to the drought in California and Las Vegas) and so they attempt to reduce water usage in order to save a buck … thus punishing the citizens of Summit County.

Yet, what I’m afraid they’ll find is a worse outcome.

I look around my neighborhood and about 70% of the people seem to be complying with the “order.” And comply they do. They are watering the crap out of their yards on Tuesday’s and Fridays. Why? Because you are used to watering your yard 3 days a week this time of year. When an order forces you down to 2 days, you change things. In my case, I don’t know when it’s going to be hot and when it’s not (the weatherman doesn’t either). So, I am now “allowed” to water from midnight to 6 am on Tuesday/Friday mornings and 9PM until midnight at night. I water every minute of it.

Instead of watering 3 times a week for 2.5 hours a time (7.5 hours), I now water twice a week for 9 hours at a time (18 hours). Just in case. It’s hard to predict what will happen.

I am not alone. As I walk through my neighborhood the past few weeks, the gutters are filled with water at night.

It’s the law of unintended consequences. Perhaps net-net the water company is saving money by not having to buy as much water, but I doubt it. Instead what they have created is uncertainty. That uncertainty leads to all sorts to behavior that runs counter to the public good. While they likely think they are not only helping themselves, but the environment too, they are likely creating a wasteful outcome for most.



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