I’ve submitted this to my local paper:

To The Editor;

Drought emphasizes the point: efficient use of water is a goal that most everyone would support, personally or professionally. There is still uncertainty about the carrying capacity of the underground aquifers and surface waters, so we gain margin for error if we are more efficient.

There are two things under people’s control working against efficient use of water.

The first is the water rate structure of most municipalities, Walla Walla included.  There are some provisions for base fees, but it is fair to say the rate structure is basically flat.  The millionth gallon costs you about the same as the thousandth gallon.  The city is stuck due to its rates; it is very hard to meet its financial commitments if less water flows through meters. City officials are understandably reluctant to deliver this bit of bad news. An odd dilemma: efficient water use hurts the City’s financial performance!  

This dilemma is made worse by another odd combination of facts. Food processing plants use a lot of water. Current residential growth demands are coincident with food processing plant closures. The funds to finance building out the water system are pinched by lower current use.

One possible solution would be a coordinated program that both encouraged efficient water use and re-structured rates into “tiers” much like electricity rates. The per-person use of water in this valley is relatively high.  Significant improvement is available without a lot of sacrifice.

The second problem is the State’s “relinquishment” law. Landowners and managers who have a water right must document using it, and if they do not use it all, they forever lose that part, or all, that they can not “prove.”  This outdated law is causing real harm to business and natural resources. Another odd dilemma: efficient water use carries the penalty of losing an asset!

One possible solution would be significant reform of State law, again, to encourage good management without applying a penalty.

Efficient water use starts with each person.  Please do your part, both personally, and in the process of talking with elected officials. Your great-grandkids will thank you.

R. Randal Son, President
Many Waters Community Development
Walla Walla

Human society creates “solutions” to problems that become institutionalized. When conditions change, it is hard to re-structure.

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