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Water conservation back on front burner

Cliff Thompson

In fact, his water bill actually increased 57 percent while his usage decreased 40 percent, causing him to question if water boards serving the eastern half of Eagle County are talking conservation but enforcing policies that don’t promote it.

Thursday, Armour addressed a joint drought task force meeting of the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District and the Upper Eagle Regional Water District, unintentionally wading into the middle of new water rate conservation policy debate.

“It appears to me (that water usage-rates) are a revenue-generating policy,” he said. “I worry that when your customers don’t see any reduction in their bills – despite their conservation efforts – that their mindset will change to “I’m paying for it, so I’m using it.'”

In fact, the board is considering tiered rates that penalize excessive water use as part of a multi-point plan to pursue water conservation – should it be necessary.That plan flowed out of a working committee convened after last year’s unprecedented drought forced lawn-watering restrictions and created fears that river flows would not be adequate to supply domestic water treatment plants.

Tricky business

Trying to anticipate behavior-driven by policies is tricky. When lawn-watering restrictions were announced, for example, water use in the Avon and Edwards areas actually increased 14 percent.

Even something seemingly as simple as setting rates to encourage conservation isn’t simple. If water is conserved, less is used and less revenue is generated for the water providers. If tiered rates are enacted, rates will need to be reworked to offset the expected 20 percent decrease in water use, said Becky Bultemeier, the water district’s finance manager.

To complicate matter, there are two water districts, with one administration, serving 22,000 people in the eastern half of Eagle County. The Eagle River Water and Sanitation District provides the Vail area with water and sanitation service while the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority provides water service from Wolcott to Dowd Junction. Each has its own rates and last summer each has its own watering restrictions.

“Rethinking’ key

Virtually every representative at Thursday’s meeting registered a differing opinion about the proposals.

Board member Bob Warner suggested policies will never be adequate to the task.

“There is no totally equitable way of doing this,” he said. “We’re trying to find a way of offending the fewest number of people.”

Avon Town Councilman Mac McDevitt suggested the proposed measures don’t go far enough.

“We need to look at the goal five to 10 years out and then backtrack to this year,” he said. “Some rethinking needs to be done.”

The two-tiered restrictions caught the attention of Beaver Creek representative Steve Friedman.

“I’m not comfortable with there being no intermediate step between business as usual and then you can’t wash your car,” he said.

Friedman said the tiered rate structure may even prove counterproductive because the largest water users can afford to pay almost any fees, he said.

Hawkeye Flaherty from Minturn put it another way: “There are people out there with more money than sense.”

Kent Rose agreed, saying rates elsewhere based on usage have proven an effective deterrent to water use.

Drought-driven

The impetus driving the boards to develop water conservation measures is the spectre of another dry summer.

“We’ve have to plan as if the snow is going to stop tomorrow,” said Rick Sackbauer, president of the Eagle Water and Sanitation District’s board of directors.

Tiered water rates will be addressed by committees representing each water district and a decision on adoption will be made next month.

Current snowpack and moisture measurements show levels already exceed last year’s total with a month left before it begins to decrease with the onset of spring.

Water conservation proposals

– Continue to emphasize water conservation eduction.

– Make the three-times-per-week watering schedule permanent.

– Standardize water conservation programs.

– Issue permits for limited daily watering of sod and newly seeded lawns.

– Discourage lawn-watering between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m.

– Adopt year-round, three-tiered rate plan for water use with large rate increase in third tier- but allow staff to use its discretion for unique cases.

– Adopt a two-stage water conservation program with the second stage prohibiting lawn-watering and enforcing strict fines; implement stage-two conservation rules when streamflows reach minimum flows.

– Allow watering of trees and shrubs except on the traditional no-watering Mondays.

– Do not change the conservation plan during irrigation season, June 1 to Sept. 30.

– Approach users of large amounts of water individually; ask them to reduce water use.

Proposed tiered rates

– 0 to 7,000 gallons per month – $2.80 per thousand gallons.

– 8,000 to 25,000 gallons – $4.20, a 50 percent increase.

– 26,000 gallons and over – $5.60, 100 percent increase.

– Goal – 20 percent water conservation.

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


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