Why Water Rates Matter

As we contemplate the annual adjustment to our water rates, we should remember the critical role that water plays in Sharon. Driving into town, a billboard touts Sharon as “A better place to live because it’s naturally beautiful.” Sharon’s natural beauty is not possible without water. It is key to our quality of life, and supports $3 billion in property values.

Unfortunately, Sharon has a water problem ( ). Population growth and automatic irrigation systems strain the town’s water infrastructure and our local environment alike. To accommodate future growth and development, we must use water more efficiently, or import costly supplementary water in summer for lawn irrigation and other outdoor uses.

Sharon’s award-winning water conservation program has reduced water use by 20%, saving about 100 million gallons per year. This has helped us avoid the cost of importing supplementary water so far, in spite of new developments such as Avalon Bay, the Wilber Apartments, and new homes springing up around town.

The cornerstone of this program is its conservation-oriented water rate structure. You get enough water for essential domestic needs at modest cost, but pay more as you use more water. Sharon was among the first towns in Massachusetts to adopt ascending water rates a quarter century ago. Today, 2/3 of the communities in Massachusetts have adopted them to encourage efficient water usage.

Some argue that ascending water rates are unfair to large families. However, Sharon’s water rates are structured so that even large families can avoid the highest rate brackets by fixing leaks, minimizing non- essential water use, and taking advantage of the Water Department’s generous rebates for efficient toilets and washing machines. In addition to charging for water usage, most towns also charge a fixed fee with each water bill. However, fixed fees reduce usage rates, undermining the incentive to conserve and shifting more of the cost of water supply onto the majority of residents who do conserve.

Summer is crunch time for Sharon’s water resources. Stream flow dwindles and water temperatures rise, stressing fish and other wildlife. At the same time, Sharon’s peak daily water usage doubles due to lawn irrigation and other outdoor uses, further stressing the environment. Peak demand drives up the long-term cost of water supply, because the water supply system must be geared to meet peak demand with enough left over to fight fires. Charging those who use a lot of water in summer at higher water rates encourages efficient irrigation practices, which in turn reduce the need for imported water, lower the cost of water for every family, and help the environment.

Sharon’s water rates have increased sharply in recent years to pay for overdue maintenance of aging pipes, tanks, and other water supply infrastructure identified in the 2010 water master plan. This year, only a minor increase will be needed to cover inflation and allow for unforeseeable contingencies. The Water Department has proposed to leave the rates unchanged except for a small increase in the quarterly fixed fee from the current $21 to $22.50, and an increase in the top block rate from $13.50 to $15 per thousand gallons. The Water Management Advisory Committee voted to endorse this proposal. The final decision will be up to the Selectmen, who also serve as Sharon’s Water Commissioners.

We should continue to protect and preserve our finite, vital water resources with progressive, conservation-oriented conservation-oriented water rates that provide a strong incentive to use water efficiently.


 Paul Lauenstein
4 Gavins Pond Road
Sharon, MA 02067 781-784-2986