National Water Rates Study

Over the 2012 summer, the Columbia Water Center had a number of interns working to put together a comprehensive database on water rates in the U.S. with demographic and physiographic factors that may relate to them. The idea is to have a publicly available and updated archive that supports analyses of what is driving rates and how they may relate to past (e.g., a protracted drought, or groundwater depletion or regulatory action or demand growth) or future scarcity in the region. Actionable what-if scenarios such as treatment processes or ecological services can then be analyzed and models developed from the database.

Rates Analysis

The initial phase of this project built a comprehensive database of utilities from national and regional sources with the goal of including variables such as rates, average customer consumption, physical factors, treatment, climate, demographics of the service population, source type etc. Initial analysis summarized key characteristics such as utility size, regional climate, service population demographics and rate structures.  A variety of statistical methods were applied to identify less obvious trends. This enabled grouping of the utilities into economic and demographic categories that can drive financial and economic frameworks contributing to the decision-making of water infrastructure and water-reliant industries. This was followed with in-depth case studies on subsets of the national data for geographical regions and major urban areas. For instance, a detailed analysis can be developed for regions such as California or Florida, with rich histories of water management and sufficient historical data.

Climate Assessment

While one part of the project was the development of a water-usage database, a parallel research analysis was conducted to develop a Climate Impact Assessment that can quantify the water risk at various spatial and temporal scales. The methodology was developed at a fine-scale (county level) to provide quantitative estimates of the potential water storage required to meet the demands by considering both the average supply and the natural variability in the supply. This estimate provides a very robust index of the magnitude of water deficit/stress that not only assesses the relative average supply and demand, but also accounts for the temporal imbalance of supply and demand at the spatial resolution consistent with decision making. We expect such novel indices to be much more useful for management than the generic indices available today.

Ecosystem Services

Another part of the project was to develop the ‘Environmental Services’ component in order to provide a data-driven resource that fosters sustainable and economically viable decisions. CWC interns were able to increase global awareness on water challenges and the need for bigger, more thoughtful solutions by examining an ecosystem approach to managing water demand, and developing a link between addressing degradation of ecosystems and economic efficiency through research and case studies.


Mentors: Dr. Upmanu Lall, Dr. Naresh Devineni and Dr. Shama Perveen
Research generously sponsored by Veolia Water and Growing Blue

Project completed Fall, 2012