Tiered rates all wet? | VailDaily.com

Tiered rates all wet?

Cliff Thompson

Newly-enacted tiered rates for water service have furrowed some brows at the local water authorities.

Charging successively higher rates for increased consumption, the new rate structure – generally viewed as a conservation measure – won’t be nearly as effective as general watering restrictions, say some members of the various boards of directors.

Tiered rates were brought into tight focus after last summer’s unprecedented drought forced area water boards to consider water conservation measures as a means of forcing water conservation.

“(Implementing tiered rates) was a rush to judgement,” says Steve Friedman, who represents Beaver Creek on the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority’s board of directors. “It’s a progressive water tax. We’re moving beyond just management of a finite resource and saying we don’t like the way people behave and we’ll create a water policy to manage that behavior.”

Friedman and Gil Marchand, Arrowhead’s representative, say they want to revisit the tiered tax enacted last year and stop what they feel are punitive provisions that penalize people with large properties that require more water than smaller properties. They says they would like to see the tiers reset.

Presently, there is a four-fold differential between base-rate users and top-tier users consuming 25,000 or more gallons per month.

“People come in (to the area) and were encouraged to plant certain types of lawns,” Marchand says.

He and Freidman say they’d like to see one more tier.

“If we have a drought, the real leverage in drought conditions is to increase watering restrictions,” says Friedman.

The growth issue

The real issue, adds Marchand, is not water conservation but implementing policies that will ensure there’s enough water for the future.

“The real problem is going to come from growth,” he says. “That’s the real issue.”

The problem of excessive summer water use may not be limited to trophy homes, either, suggests Bob Warner, chairman of the board of the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority.

“Some 2,500-square-foot homes with big lots use more water than some big homes,” he says.

Friedman says our definition of drought differs from that on the Front Range, where reservoirs supply the preponderance of water.

“Our issue is streamflows. We know how to deal with it if it falls,” he says. “A drought for us is when the river falls below a certain level.”

Driving last year’s deliberation on water conservation was the worst drought in nearly 400 years, which drove the flow of the Eagle River at the Avon water treatment plant in July to just 30 cubic feet per second, or cfs. The flow there this week, by comparison, has been at more than 1,000 cfs.

The drought was created by a combination of lower-than-normal snowpack and virtually no spring or early summer rains. The drought broke finally in the fall with heavy late-summer and autumn precipitation.

The conservation issue

Most water conservation measures involve limiting summer lawn irrigation. Eighty-five percent of annual water use in Colorado occurs in summer, with 70 percent of that for lawn and agricultural irrigation.

But not all water authority board members agree with the premise that tiered rates are not properly tiered.

“It’s (the spectre of drought) not over yet,” says Doris Dewton. “When we get into a drought scenario, we’ll see the impact.”

The boards of the water authority and the Eagle Valley Water and Sanitation District will be hiring a consultant to determine if the rates have the desired conservative effect. That’s expected to cost as much as $15,000.

“I don’t think anyone is arguing against the concept of tiered rates,” says Friedman. “We need to promote wise use of water and set tiers where we need to set them.”

Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555 ext 450 or cthompson@vaildaily.com

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