In drought-stricken times, sewer cap is a boon
Posted: Tuesday, November 11, 2008 8:45 pm
The desert conditions under which we have gardened this year and last have more and more people considering irrigation systems.
We have had automatic irrigation on the inner parts of our garden for eight years or so, and it has been a godsend. What success we have enjoyed in recent years has largely been the result of irrigation. In outlying areas of our four acres, where there is no irrigation, losses have been calamitous.
Our system is relatively small. A single line runs around the house, and emitters point outward, covering lawn and mixed borders with their precious load of life-giving water.
As one would expect, considering the ongoing series of droughts, installation of irrigation systems has been a land-office business in recent years. Several firms offer the service and they have now had enough years of experience to know exactly what they are doing.
Systems vary in cost in direct proportion to their size. Large systems require more work, piping and digging, as well as more elaborate electronics.
Then there is ongoing maintenance to consider. Mostly minor costs are involved, but in fall some systems require an air burst to exhaust any remaining water in the pipes which, if it should freeze, could crack piping. Our system is buried 18 inches deep and has never been blown out. It lies on a slope and water seeps to the lowest point and out the lowest emitter head.
Most systems are buried only a few inches deep and thus are prone to freezing, requiring the once-yearly blowout.
Water isn’t free, irrigation or no. In rural areas outside the city water system, water is drawn from a well, of course, and costs very little, mainly just the cost of pumping it out of the ground. Well-fed irrigation systems can use a lot of water for little cost.
Our city water is plentiful, thank goodness. Even in the face of recent historic droughts, our deep aquifers haven’t been depleted even minutely, while other areas in the southeast have had severe water restrictions in place, causing the ruination of extensive gardens and the bankruptcy of famous nurseries in drought-stricken areas.
The cost of city water is a bargain. Our usage in August 2007, the most ever, was 144,000 gallons of city water. The cost of the water was considerable, but that water saved thousands of dollars worth of plants. Without it, our garden would have gone under.
City sewer charges are based on water usage, and are higher per 1,000 gallons of water than the cost of water. The Board of Public Utilities caps sewer charges in summer months at the highest winter month consumption. If your highest winter consumption was, say, 5,000 gallons of water, then your summer sewer charge would be based on that figure, even if you use 100,000 gallons of water irrigating.
If it were not for the sewer cap, few of us could afford to water our gardens. And, after, all that irrigation water doesn’t go into the sewer, so it is only fair not to be charged sewer costs for its usage.
The sewer cap is in effect from May-September, months in which drought would seem to be most likely. One problem, however, is that October, statistically and historically, is drier than May. Watering extensively in October, after the cap has ended, can prove costly, not for just that month alone, but the next summer, when the winter usage figure has been skewed by that big October watering month. In other words, one could be paying a high sewer cap all during the ensuing summer following a high water figure for October.
There would seem to be two possibilities in alleviating that skew:
One way would be to substitute October for May in the cap months. Irrigation needs in May are, most years, less critical than in October.
A second, and more generous, answer would be simply to extend the cap months through October, meaning the cap would be in place May-October instead of May-September. This would, of course, cost BPU more in revenue, but seems to be the fairest, since any irrigation water does not go into the sewer, no matter which month the usage occurs.
Many times BPU will work with customers, on a case by case basis, when one winter (non-cap) month is unusually high. Sometimes even a leak in a home system can cause some anomaly in the normal winter usage.
From Poor Willie’s Almanack — Things for Henry Countians to be thankful for: Plenty of water, and a public utilities system that cares for its customers.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.
Published in The Messenger 11.11.08
Jimmy Williams, The Garden Path