The city of Galveston is right to make it expensive to waste water. It might be the only way to convince people to conserve the precious resource.

It’s a puzzling contradiction that most people will agree society should do more to conserve water, particularly in times of drought, but those same people rarely do anything meaningful to reduce their own use of it. But it’s not necessarily surprising nor done with malicious intent.

Consider that Californians, in a 2015 Field Poll study, agreed water agencies should be forced to cut back consumption by an average of 25 percent. But 44 percent said it would be hard for them personally to make more of a sacrifice, according to a Southern California Public Radio report.

Cameron Brick, at the time a doctoral candidate in Social Psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, told the public radio station:

“I think that’s in agreement with a lot of things we see about individual behavior.”

Research showed that when humans are faced with massive challenges, they often feel their individual actions won’t make a difference, Brick said in the report.

It’s called “low self-efficacy” and it’s also behind why people feel their vote doesn’t matter or why they think it’s impossible to eat healthier or lose weight, Brick said.

Human nature and issues of low self-efficacy are what the city of Galveston and other area municipalities are swimming against when they try to get people to conserve water.

We don’t have to look as far away as California to know that.

In November, crews had to shut off a Gulf Coast Water Authority pipe that supplies water to the island because of a leak. But despite official recommendations and some restrictions, water consumption didn’t decline, officials said.

“It definitely is concerning,” Brandon Cook, assistant city manager of development and municipal services, told The Daily News.

Galveston’s new draft water plan aims to reduce water use by 25 gallons per capita per day in the next 10 years, an effort that focuses both on decreasing the city’s lost water and urging residents to reduce use. The plan, which was last updated in 2009, is open for public comment.

While the city now has the rights to enough water to meet demand, conservation will be key to ensuring the city doesn’t have to buy more rights in the near future, Cook has said.

Buying water rights and building the infrastructure to deliver the water is expensive. U.S. consumers, and those in other countries, have long enjoyed paying unrealistically low prices for their excess water use — unrealistic when compared with the cost to procure water, industry observers have lamented.

Galveston’s plan calls for city officials to get more serious about cracking down on consumers who use excessive water during times of drought. In December, the Gulf Coast Water Authority approved a plan that would surcharge its customers if they fail to meet certain conservation goals during times of drought and water shortage, authority General Manager Ivan Langford said.

“Penalties in the form of surcharges on excess water use during shortages encourage our water supply customers to take measures to use less water,” Langford said.

Under the city’s new plan, those surcharges would get passed down to the city’s customers only during times of drought.

A huge part of the water conservation battle has to do with public perception. It’s tough to get people thinking about water conservation when they’re surrounded by water in communities prone to flooding. But people might start thinking more about it if they see their water bills go up.

The city, by repairing aging infrastructure, plans to reduce its water loss from 55.4 gallons per capita per day to 30.6 gallons in 10 years. And the Galveston City Council earlier this year approved a water rate increase of up to 7 percent to pay for about $35 million in capital projects meant to enhance water and wastewater services.

While the city is doing its part, residents have to help, too. If low self-efficacy is the problem, maybe higher bills are the answer. At the very least, people should want to conserve water because it will save them money.

• Laura Elder

 Laura Elder: 409-683-5248; laura.elder@galvnews.com

Managing Editor

(7) comments

Arden Sansom

Water conservation will only "save people money" in the short term UNLESS the price of water has low fixed costs. In the medium/long term, overall water conservation will decrease revenues to the water authority and rates will have to rise to cover fixed costs (usually high in utilities industry). I agree we should conserve water, but to imply that it's a $$$ saver for individual consumers is in all likelihood incorrect. As your editorial points out, just ask Californian (specifically, East May Municipal Utilities District) customers--who conserve almost on demand and then get hit with higher rates and fees to cover decreased water use revenues.

Miceal O'Laochdha

"But despite official recommendations and some restrictions, water consumption didn’t decline, officials said." That statement in the newspaper should only serve to confirm the lack of self-efficacy perception of those individual water consumers who did indeed answer to call to reduce consumption (no doubt some responsible persons did so), only to be told their efforts had so little effect that the authorities cannot even tell they occurred.

George Croix

According to this article, if I read it right, consumers could do nothing at all to change their habits, and the city, by fixing the leaking, aging infrastructure in 10 years, could reduce citywide water consumption by 44%.....
So, currently, the infrastructure loss is using almost as much water as consumers use.....

If raising water prices is to motivate consumers to decrease use is a good diea, then maybe we should cut the pay of the people supposed to fix the leaks until that problem is fixed.....??

Be careful what is asked for.............

George Croix

My error.....again.......
The 44% to be recouped when repairs complete is JUST for city infrastructure loss per consumer, NOT for total consumer use (another cold Diet Coke helped....)...
That reduction should still receive priority, and no matter how much consumers cut back, it won't stop the piping leaks.....

Jarvis Buckley

George the piping leaks have been known for many years. Like Galvestons clogged drainage issues.
The can has always been kicked down the road. This administration
Will not do that.

George Croix

I understand that, Jarvis.
I suspect Brian, et al, are sincerely doing their best.
I simply don't see the point of hammering the consumers when the people maintaining the system(s) have been getting a pass......

One LaMarque in the county is enough......[beam]

Paula Flinn

I had a pipe leak for 2 months before I realized it (when I got the bill). I began to conserve water, and only used 100 cu. ft. the next month. My bill came, and it was $58.97. Garbage was $20.48 for 1 pickup a week. My friend in La Porte, not conserving water, used 1800 cu. ft. of water. His bill was $39.18. His garbage was $18.00 for pickup for twice a week. I know that residents are being charged for water used by cheaters who leave their residences without paying their bills. We don’t like this!

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