By Corinne Murdock |
The Tucson City Council began the process for increasing residents’ water rates in order to incentivize greater water conservation. The council motioned in a study session on Tuesday to increase rates by reclassifying winter months, which have lower rates, into summer months.
A customer’s water usage over the winter months determines the Average Winter Consumption (AWC), which is charged at a year-round base rate; in the summer months, water usage between 101 to 145 percent of AWC is billed at a higher rate, and over 145 percent at an even higher rate.
The rate increase comes at the behest of the water efficiency and conservation program goals outlined in the city’s Natural Environment Plan. On Tuesday, the city approved Options 1A and 1B to restructure water rates. Those options direct city staff to proceed with the rate adoption process, commence a notice of public intent with a 60-day public outreach and communication hearing prior to a public hearing and rate adoption.
Councilman Kevin Dahl said the water crisis defined by PFAs in the water supply and the Colorado Water River drought necessitated the restructuring of rates. Dahl also claimed that the rate restructure would create equitable change, noting that wealthier entities like homeowners associations and golf courses pay lower water rates while larger families and garden owners pay more.
Rather than allow the traditional policy process, which would take four or five months per proposed change, Dahl moved to expedite both options together rather than separately. The council adopted his motion.
“We need to have a quick start on this,” said Dahl.
The 1A option changes winter months from the current definition of six months to three months. The 1B option then adds on another tier, greater than 145 percent, to the block structure. City staff explained that 1A allows the commercial and industrial class to get used to the three-month winter quarter average for several years, then follow up to determine conservation effectiveness.
Councilman Paul Cunningham said that he appreciated the notice of public intent and hearing, sharing that it alleviated his concerns that residents would experience “sticker shock” over the hike in water rates.
“This is the direction we’re going. We might as well be transparent about it,” said Cunningham.
Cunningham voiced concern over the possibility of specialized rates for different businesses. He also brought up a desire to establish conservation-compliant water parks in the city, noting that they lose residents in the summer to the water parks housed in surrounding cities and states.
“Water, like it or not, is becoming a commodity and is becoming a quantifiable and limited resource,” said Cunningham.
Mayor Regina Romero called the city’s water situation “bleak.” Vice Mayor Steve Kozachik concurred.
“Our goal is to send a strong conservation signal,” said Kozachik.
Tucson hasn’t been the only city to hike its water rates for conservation’s sake. The city of Phoenix proposed increasing water rates over the next year by a minimum of 25 percent.
Watch the city council discussion of the water rates here: