VERNON TOWNSHIP — Consumption of water is down in Meadville and Meadville Area Water Authority officials say the explanation is improved technology and fewer people drinking tap water. They are hopeful the introduction of fluoridation, which is expected to occur in the next month or two, will not contribute further to the decline.
A steep 14 percent drop in usage in January compared to January 2018 was nearly balanced out by a similar increase in March over the same month a year ago, but for the first quarter of 2019, total consumption is down 1.2 percent over the same period last year, according to data MAWA Business Manager Yvonne Shaffer presented to the authority’s board during the monthly meetingWednesday. The drop continues a trend that has been evident for more than 20 years, according to Shaffer.
Water-saving technology in modern appliances and plumbing devices are responsible for much of the decline, according to Tom Thompson, MAWA’s consulting engineer.
“Everybody that replaces a toilet goes from 5 gallons (per flush) to 1.5,” Thompson said after the meeting, “I’d say that the water usage — generally people just don’t drink as much water. They buy everything — drinks or caffeinated products, sodas, stuff like that.”
“A lot of bottled water,” added Project Manager Bob Harrington.
Population decline also plays a role, both men acknowledged, but it is not as much of a factor as technology and changing preferences.
“Nobody drinks (tap) water anymore,”Harrington joked. The decline in water consumption, he added on a serious note, is not exclusive to Meadville.
“It’s industry-wide,” he said.
According to the data Shaffer presented, the number of residential MAWA customers dropped from 4,552 in March 2018 to 4,518 in March 2019. Commercial, industrial and municipal customers increased from 619 to 621 over the same period.
Whether the introduction of fluoridation contributes further to the ongoing decline in consumption remains to be seen.
MAWA has completed its application with the state Department of Environmental Protection for a permit to begin fluoridating the water it supplies to customers, Thompson told the board. No inspection has been scheduled yet, but it is likely to occur in the coming weeks.
While popular with many in the community and strongly supported by Meadville Medical Center, fluoridation also has provoked outrage among many who see it as unneeded or even potentially harmful.
Will a significant proportion of those who opposed fluoridation stop drinking the water once it’s fluoridated, thus adding further to the decline in consumption?
“I don’t think we had thought that would happen,” board Chairman Tim Groves said after Wednesday’s meeting. “I hope we find it’s very beneficial.”
The plan, Groves continued, is to try fluoridation for three to five years — enough time so that Meadville Medical Center can track data to see if the addition has an impact on dental problems in the area.“I’ve got to trust the science,” Groves said.
While water consumption has steadily declined, the authority’s revenues have not. For the first quarter of 2019, operating revenues were up $14,600 over the same period last year.
Having anticipated the continued drop, the authority raised the monthly base rate 3 percent rather than raising the consumption rate. The increase brought the base rate from $15.14 per month to $15.59. Over the course of a year, the 45 cent increase will cost customers $5.40 and produce about $57,000 in additional revenue for the authority. In 2011, the monthly base rate for a typical customer was $10.