Why is Drought-Hit Dallas Selling Water?

Um ... because someone at City Hall is smart. Dang.

Think about it. If a city ever just flat runs out of water or even gets really really low on supply, people and businesses will start ditching that city. Lots of luck counting on that city to pay you back the money you loaned them when you bought their municipal bonds.

People who buy those bonds count on the rating agencies to tell them how solid the cities are that are selling the bonds. So to what extent are the rating agencies looking at water risk?

The study, "The Ripple Effect: Water Risk in the Municipal Bond Market," published a year ago, said the agencies aren't paying much attention at all. I was starting to feel a little better, because that's pretty grim news, but when I read down to the details, the report had all this relatively good stuff about Dallas.

Jen Sorensen

Of the 10 cities examined — Atlanta, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, San Diego, Tucson — Dallas had the lowest per capita rate of water usage. We're at about half the rate in Phoenix, even though we get more than four times the rainfall.

It gets better (worse for me): At the time of the study, Dallas had the cheapest of all the water rates in the 10 cities, a third the rate in San Diego. I just about had an aneurysm when I saw that, because I hate my water bills so much. If I lived in San Diego and used the same amount of water my household does here, my summer water bills would be a payment on a Lexus. As it is, they're the payment on the bass boat I don't have.

The study was able to come up with an overall "average water risk score" for six cities, based on climate, available resources, political problems and some other factors I couldn't understand. Of the six, Dallas had by far the best score — the least amount of peril — coming in at a rate almost seven times better than Los Angeles and six times better than Atlanta.

There were some other really good things about Dallas in the report, but ... I'm sorry. This just asks too much of me. I've already told you a lot of good stuff. I think I have done my duty here and more.

There was for me a rusty lining in this silver cloud, and I shall cling to it here in closing. The Ceres report said that Dallas has it so good that it is not taking the kind of measures other cities have taken to encourage serious conservation, and we're not talking about making sure your toilet doesn't run while you're away at work.

The rates. They think our rates should be higher. Arrgh! Stab me in the heart while you're at it. But the fact seems to be that raising water rates is far and away the most effective way to encourage conservation. As Bezanson said, the most wasteful use of water may well be on residential lawns. So I should just, I guess, turn over my whole paycheck to the water department every month.

I spoke with Dallas City Council member Scott Griggs at the end of last week, and he was able to provide me with some small comfort by suggesting that water rates in Dallas may be poorly structured.

Griggs said we sell water to the suburbs so cheaply that they are able to provide it to their consumers at rates lower than what Dallas residents are charged. That seems dumb to him, since it's the residents of the city who are carrying all of the risk and responsibility for building and owning the water system.

We have this monopoly, Griggs said. Why would we set it up to the advantage of competing communities and against our own interests?

"The residents of the city of Dallas are responsible for the infrastructure of the water system," he said, "and the population of the city of Dallas isn't growing at the rate of the suburban populations. That disproportionately is going to be a burden on the residents of the city of Dallas."

Griggs is right. Dallas has something to brag about here — an edge. We should use it better. But Bezanson also is right. We still have big regional challenges ahead, and it seems unlikely the solution will be for all of us to stand in the same wading pool trying to draw lines between our water. Much as I would like that.

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Judd D. Bradbury
Judd D. Bradbury

I think there is a very solid argument for Dallas drawing some hard lines in the resources. The taxpayers of Dallas paid to develop the resources over the last 50 years. The problem is going to be political. There is a lot of money invested in those suburbs and those investment interests are going to make sure they are protected at the state level. For Dallas to have a return on its investment you would need a city leader that understands that this "fair and share" is simply good marketing for "I would like to take the resources that you built with your historic capital". Scott is on the right track but you are going to need a lot of firepower from people, money, or some very good information.


Speaking of droughts and water conservation I wonder how this is going to affect the new Woodall Rogers Park? Also the rage about fracking for gas and the high usage of water (aside from the question of poisonous chemicals) in this process?

The only other thought is that perhaps the city of Dallas should charge the other cities a wee bit higher rate.


Interesting that the writers first inclination was to find something illicit, illegal or illogical. Finding none the article was actually fairly reasoned and informative. Everyone is in the 1% of something.


All I got to say for now is that I thank Dallas very much for the water that it sells to our suburban city at such a cheap rate. I will continue to glow about this until somebody from Dallas takes a giant water hose and blasts my glow into darkness. Then we all can either be one of the 99 percent or one percent.

Water Wiki
Water Wiki

Another good source of info in this direction is a book written by a former state rep. from Dallas called "Whose Water Is It Anyway?"


It belongs to the 1%.

Doesn't everything?