Basalt officials say rates spur water conservation | AspenTimes.com

Basalt officials say rates spur water conservation

Basalt’s water use fell by 3.7 million gallons or about 7 percent during the third quarter of this year compared to the same period last year.

Some town officials credited stiff new water rates for spurring the conservation.

But a foe of the higher charges claimed they are all wet. Basalt resident Peter Frey said the 7 percent drop in usage was achieved before it became clear to most people that the town’s water rate was significantly higher.

The town bills for water use by the quarter. The third quarter bill came out in early October ? after the 7 percent decline in use for July, August and September was achieved.

Frey believes the decrease in water use proves that Basalt residents are interested in conservation without a fee system that he said unfairly penalizes the biggest users and families.

The Basalt Town Council implemented a rate change April 1 to encourage conservation and pay for water infrastructure projects like a filtration plant ? which was required by the state ? and a new well.

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The new rates hit the biggest users the hardest. For example, customers who use between 54,901 gallons and 111,600 gallons saw the rate increase from $1.60 to $4.60 per gallon.

Customers who consume more than 111,601 gallons saw rates skyrocket from $2.20 to $6.

Customers who consume less than 54,900 gallons per quarter experienced a modest increase.

Councilwoman Jacque Whitsitt said additional time is needed to gauge how effectively the new rates affect conservation. She said the 7 percent conservation figure for the third quarter is a step in the right direction.

“I think it justifies [the new rates],” Whitsitt said. “We need to tweak it when it needs to be tweaked but I want to stick with it.

“My resolve is not going away. Water is going to be a problem all over the West, not just here.”

Councilwoman Anne Freedman said it has been proven in Basalt and elsewhere that charging higher rates for greater consumption promotes conservation. She believes Basalt still has room to improve.

“I’d like to see even greater savings,” said Freedman. The 7 percent savings was modest compared to savings in the 30 percent range achieved by some Front Range cities, she said.

Basalt doesn’t have an unlimited water supply, like some foes of the new rates contend, so conservation must be heavily promoted, Freedman said. She plans to propose a landscaping ordinance that would require new developments in Basalt to use drought-tolerant, less-consumptive plants and grasses. Alternatives are needed to Kentucky bluegrass, she said.

Frey said he could support higher rates for higher water use, but not at the level implemented by the town. He said the 7 percent decrease in use during the third quarter proves nothing about the effectiveness of the water rates since the financial implications weren’t clear yet to users.

The town’s water customers were notified of the increase before April, and they saw it reflected in their second quarter water bills ? covering April, May and June.

But water demand is typically greater in the third quarter months of July, August and September. This summer’s drought increased demand, but the town implemented mandatory watering restrictions in June.

The town started receiving complaints about the new rates during the hot summer months. One homeowner, Matt Ferguson, paid his $605 water bill in $1 bills at last week’s Town Council meeting.

Ferguson said his family of five was doing all it could to conserve. Larger families shouldn’t be penalized simply because they are larger families, he said.

He demanded a refund and a decrease in the rates.

The town is forming a committee to study the issue. Frey predicted that if adjustments aren’t made in the rates, the town government will achieve greater conservation in the third quarter of next year but at the price of aesthetics.

He said he has talked to people who will turn off their irrigation systems altogether and let their lawns degrade to weeds and dirt.

“I don’t think the town ought to be encouraging having the town look like a dump,” said Frey.

[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com]

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