My Gift to Omaha’s Sewer

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Our lawn sprinklers are getting a free ride.

Omaha has undertaken a massive sewer separation project mandated by the federal government. It will cost more than $1 billion. The means of paying for this project is fundamentally flawed: The new sewer system is paid for by increasing sewer rates by more than 50%.

Lawn Sprinkler Broken

There is a huge problem with this formula: When you increase the price of something, you reduce demand. By effectively raising the price of water consumption, the City has created a cycle of reduced demand that will ultimately result in a need for continually higher rates to keep up with diminishing volume as people buy low-flow shower heads, stop running the water while they brush their teeth, take shorter showers, etc., etc.

Look for the rise in rates to rise past all previous forecasts as consumption declines.

So here’s my advice for the day: As a commercial property owner, we have the ability to split our water meters in to several units. One of these meters is usually dedicated to a lawn sprinkler system. Why do property owners split the lawn sprinkler onto its independent meter? There are no sewer fees charged to these meters, only water fees. The theory is that lawn sprinklers do not use the sewer system and, therefore, should be exempt.

Anyone who has driven through a deserted office park after business hours will easily see that this is a fallacy. Water overflows the curbs at nearly every perimeter location. This water heads immediately towards its favorite sewer inlet.

Here’s my proposal (and it will directly hurt my pocket book): All sprinkler meters should be required to pay a sewer fee that is somewhere between 25% to 50% of the standard water meter.

Sure, it will reduce demand. But it will more honestly price how lawn irrigation water is used.