Old debt driving up Red Cliff water bills | VailDaily.com

Old debt driving up Red Cliff water bills

Red Cliff Mayor Scott Burgess, left, speaks with Sen. Michael Bennet during Bennet's first trip to Red Cliff last spring. Bennet helped land federal grants to rebuild Red Cliff's water system.
Randy Wyrick|randy@vaildaily.com |

RED CLIFF — Red Cliff’s water woes have been in the rearview mirror for years and now the town has arguably the best water in the world.

Wonderfulness comes at a price, though.

The small town has among the nation’s highest monthly residential water rates, $147 per household.

“It is what it has to be to pay the debt,” said Scott Burgess, Red Cliff mayor.

Of that $147, $94.60 goes to directly to paying debt the town has been carrying since the 1970s and 1980s, according to the town’s financial statements.

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After years of sketchy water service, Red Cliff rebuilt its water and wastewater systems with $5 million in county, state and federal grants, including a $2 million federal stimulus grant six years ago.

However, to pay those debts from the 1970s and 1980s, Red Cliff is making annual debt payments of $175,000 — $94.60 monthly from each of the town’s 155 households. The rest of the $147 monthly water bill pays to run the town’s water system — making that cost about the same as other Eagle County communities.

The town has about $250,000 in its annual budget to spend.

Red Cliff resident Barb Smith said for the town to pay its bills, everyone has to pitch in.

“We have the best tasting water in the country. We’re at the top of the stream. But it does come at a price,” Smith said.

It’s getting cheaper

Red Cliff consolidated four FDA loans dating back to the mid-1980s.

Before doing that, the town was paying $3,000 a month on federal loans, more than it could afford but still not enough to pay all the interest. When they consolidated the debt, it lowered the payments by about half, Burgess said.

Red Cliff did things like change the heating system in its new treatment plant and cut that heat bill in half. The propane bill for the old system could reach $20,000 per year, Burgess said. A copper pipe was pouring water into the river, and closing it slowed the water production rate from 48,000 gallons a day to about 24,000 gallons a day.

A storage tank has been re-insulated and surrounded by metal, which keeps the wind from blowing the insulation away and the metal shell keeps kids from throwing rocks and embedding them in the foam.

That, along with other measures enabled Red Cliff to finish the fiscal year in the black for the first time in decades.

“We’re pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps. We’re not holding our hands out anymore,” Burgess said.

World of Water

The Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development surveyed water prices in 20 Western countries and found that Denmark may have the most expensive tap water in the world.

Water in Denmark costs $6.70 per cubic meter. That’s about 2.5 cents per gallon. In the U.S. the OECOD found that a gallon of water costs between .07 and .2 cents. Part of the reason for this price is that it includes the price to clean and dispose of the water.

Mexicans pay the least for their water, about 50 cents per cubic meter.

Water, water everywhere

Circle of Blue kept its research closer to home, surveying residential water use and prices in 30 metropolitan regions in the United States. The results seemed a bit counterintuitive.

In Phoenix, Arizona, a family of four using 100 gallons per person each day will pay on average $34.29 a month. The same amount costs $65.47 in Boston.

Besides Red Cliff, a quick search found that Cohasset, Massachusetts, may have one of the nation’s other highest water rates. Located in Norfolk County, the typical Cohasset homeowner paid $1,566 for their water in 2012.

In Santa Fe, New Mexico, the most expensive city that Circle of Blue surveyed, a family of four using 100 gallons a day per person (roughly the national average) has to pay more than $150 a month. You might think that makes sense in the drought-stricken West. But in Salt Lake City, Utah, the same amount of consumption costs the family only $27.

Right now, the average household water bill is about $335 per year, according to the nonprofit.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

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