Use less, pay more | Editorial

It is something we take for granted — clean, abundant water. Being bundled in with other bills we pay for trash, phone and cable, it is likely we don’t pay too much attention to what we are paying — unless we have been watering the lawn. But now, along with everything else, the cost of that water is about to take a significant hike.

The city and residents will face a startling increase percentage-wise when the City of Mercer Island raises its water rates to meet a one-third increase in the cost of water it buys from the City of Seattle. We have been warned — the city has made it plain that an increase in water rates was coming. The city wants to keep the increase at under 10 percent for Island homes and businesses, but in reality the increase needed pencils out to be 12 percent or more. Seattle Public Utilities supplies water to Mercer Island and other communities from its huge system of reservoirs and distribution that presently services some 1.4 million customers. Water, like clean air and fossil fuel, is a precious and shrinking resource.

But it is not the lack of water supplies or a need for new capacity that is driving the increase. Ironically, it is conservation and the economy. Homes and businesses use less. Lower demand has significantly cut into the revenue needed to keep the system operating. The city wisely entered into a 60-year contract in 2003, to ensure that city residents have a protected source of water from an established system with water rights in place. However, that certainty comes with a price; when costs go up, the city has little control over what they will be charged.

The latest demonstration at Rep. Dave Reichert’s office on Tuesday by a union group called “Save the Postal Service” is about saving jobs. Due to moves by more efficient and nimble competitors, the post office is suffering. Fingers are pointed at Congress — an obvious but rather convenient target. If the post office was a business, it would have shut down offices, eliminated Saturday delivery, and most importantly, raised its rates long ago. Just like clean water, we have taken the six-day delivery of mail at a low cost for granted. But it is the falling demand for mail service that is the real driver behind its problems.


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