Friday, September 09, 2005

Water bill blues

Here in Portland, Oregon, the water supply comes from a watershed, and two dams within that watershed, called Bull Run.  It is in the Mount Hood National Forest, and is one of the cleanest and best tasting water supplies in the country.  However, recently the future of a growing Portland area population and the logistics of getting that water around the west hills to Portland’s western suburbs has caused some localities to build a purification plant for water from the Willamette River.

The Willamette certainly has enough water, but has a bad reputation for how polluted it can get.   The plant, however, built by the city of Wilsonville, south of Portland, has created water well above water quality standards since it’s inception.

The city of Tigard is considering dumping the City of Portland's Bull Run water for Willamette River water, which is already being used in some localities in Washington County and the city of Wilsonville.

Portland City Councilman Randy Leonard said:

      “If enough customers switched, we would have no choice but to raise rates,” said city Commissioner Randy Leonard, who is in charge of the bureau.

What?  Why? Leonard later admits that losing the customers of some suburbs might be a good thing as growing demand in Portland and eastern suburbs grows, the article never says anything about why Leonard made these statements or why he thinks that losing customers will raise rates.

On the surface, this is a very un-American statement.  I don't mean anti-American, or that he's a communist or something.  I mean that it is inconsistent with the American values of competition and free-market adjustment of prices. 

The Portland Water Bureau is a MONOPOLY, right?  If you live in Portland, you have no choice but to get your water from the city (unless you dig a well or something).  In a free market society, if the Government is running some sort of service without competition, presumably for the public good, it is obliged to run it in as efficient manner as possible in the absence of competition (not that it ever happens that way).

When you lose customers in the business world, do you automatically raise prices? 
My guess is that bureau officials have told Mr. Randy that their costs would increase because they don't want to have to fire people when the customer base shrinks.  Union mentality?  Bureaucratic mentality (don’t want to lose our budget)?

1 comment:

Jack Bog said...

This is all just the hardball part of a negotiation over money. The Bull Run system needs improvements, and Leonard wants the suburban customers of the system to help pay for them, which they don't want to do.

Let them drink the Willamette. I don't care how many filters you run it through, the people in those towns are going to hate it. Eventually they'll pay for Bull Run. Randy's exactly right to call their bluff.

Note, too, that this is 180 degrees opposite from what Erik "Water Man" Sten wanted to do. He wanted to turn Bull Run over to a "regional authority" that would be run by the suburbs. Then all of us in Portland would eventually get to drink the Willamette along with the folks in the overbuilt suburbs. No thanks.