The Statesman has published its annual list of Austin’s top ten water users. Neil Webber, Vignette’s founder, tops the list. He used 1.74 million gallons between February and July.
The Statesman’s annual outing predictably (and understandably) stokes outrage. Many Austinites struggle to get by with 15,000 gallons per month. That’s not that much water if you have a yard of any size. And 15,000 gallons per month is a steep $48.59. News that a single property owner is using more than 100 times as much makes people mad.
But Webber is paying a stiff premium thanks to the water utility’s progressive rate structure. Webber used as much water as 117 households using 15,000 gallons per month. These 117 households paid a total of $5,682. Webber forked over more than $14,300, a 250% premium. With another round of price hikes this fall, next year Webber will owe more than $17,000 for the same amount of water.
Rich people are naturally less sensitive to price than the rest of us. But remember that a progressive rate structure ensures that they subsidize the rest of us. We can debate whether our rate structure is as progressive as it ought to be — it’s actually quite progressive compared to the rate structures I’ve seen elsewhere — but the premium heavy water users pay can can be used for sidewalks, libraries or anything else we want to spend it on. That’s a good thing.