Monday, February 13, 2012

Trumping The Yuck Factor!

Looking at it through a market-driven lens, one could wonder why,   when Durham's reservoirs are completely full, as occurred last week, and water is flowing over the dam to downstream communities, the rates paid for water here don't adjust to zero.

Several years ago in reaction to a drought Durham, North Carolina, where I live implemented a pretty steep tiered system for the rates it charges for water, applying some free-market strategies to the use of this critical resource.

But of course the price we pay for water is not driven only by the status of supply.  Rates need to take into consideration the infrastructure required not only to collect the water, but to treat and distribute and then reclaim it which, using market principles should also be factored in.

Even so I still doubt we’re coming even close to paying the true value of this resource.

I wondered about all of this as I read a recent news article entitled in part “Yuck Factor Subsidies.”  The article is about cities in various parts of the country that are using some pretty old technology to make reclaimed water clean enough to route back into the drinking water supply and/or to recharge groundwater.

The so-called “yuck factor” is a term coined by bioethicist Arthur Caplan “to describe the influence of instinctive responses against new technology.”  It goes beyond what my youngest sister meant when, as a little girl, she wouldn’t drink what she called “bathroom water” from the tap in that room in our house as we were growing up.

According to the article in the New York Times, the reclaimed water that cities are routing back to the tap is much safer than the water from most private wells.

Hopefully part of the increased fees we are paying for water now, even when the supply is larger than what can be contained, will help speed up funding for and accelerate the pilot reclamation project noted in the Durham Comprehensive Plan under Chapter 9.3.2. and that is retained in the current draft update as of this week.

After reading the news article about how other cities are already doing it, I am hoping that we give a higher priority to our pilot project here in Durham and that it will take us in the same direction and that other locales are headed, and that we too will overcome any “yuck factor” here.

As home to an incredible array of research facilities, including the EPA and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the world-renowned Research Triangle Park and two research universities, Durham should be well poised to overcome any residual “yuck factor.”

Of course the draft update of the Durham Comprehensive Plan still intends to increase Durham's water supply by such things as building a higher dam to increase the depth and size of Lake Michie as well as pursuing the option of obtaining water from Kerr Lake.

Hopefully, though, Durham officials will place a lot more emphasis on reclaiming the water we use as the means to increase supply!

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