Conserving water? You may get rebate |

Conserving water? You may get rebate

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Aspen residents who have been turning off the tap during this hot, brown summer may find a little more green in their pockets next winter.

People who use a lot of water have been paying premium rates to soak their landscaping this summer, boosting revenues for the city water department. The city could use those funds to reward customers who cut back their water use in response to the drought conditions, according to Phil Overeynder, utility director.

The City Council adopted a new rate structure for water use in June to encourage water conservation. Voluntary watering restrictions were also put in place.

?When we put this into effect, the front office was deluged with phone calls,? Overeynder said. ?People started cutting back, watching their meters.?

The efforts appear to have had the desired effect of reducing water consumption by 10 percent. While overall water use is down, however, some customers have continued to use a lot of water, and they?ve paid the price, Overeynder said.

The city has always charged a higher rate for ?extraordinary water use,? but the old threshold that triggered the steeper fee was quite high. A residence could use as much as 66,000 to 120,000 gallons per month without paying for excessive consumption.

Under the new rate structure, users pay $1.17 per 1,000 gallons for the first 15,000 gallons per month; $1.75 for anything over 15,000 gallons, up to 30,000 gallons; and $2.34 per 1,000 gallons for water use exceeding 30,000 gallons in a month.

Overall water consumption in July was down more than 10 percent, compared to the same month last year, but billing was up by more than a third. July charges for actual water use totaled $199,106, compared to $147,680 in July 2001, according to Overeynder.

?August will be another high month,? he predicted. ?We don?t know what the other months will look like, but it will drop off substantially.?

The range in water use ? and the bills paid ? by local residents varies substantially. The number of bathrooms, kitchens and bedrooms in a home are factored into its ECU rating, which is part of the billing calculation. A typical Aspen residence totals 2.4 ECUs, Overeynder said. Actual water use is also a component of the bill, and jumps substantially in the summer months when residents are watering lawns and gardens. Homes with expansive, landscaped lots and sprinkler systems are big water users.

On one extreme, for example, the seven homes in the 10-lot Eagle Pines subdivision (three lots are undeveloped) had an average consumption in July of 186,500 gallons. The large homes average four ECUs.

Actual water use in July ranged from 38,000 gallons at one Eagle Pines residence to 367,000 gallons at another. Water use in July at the subdivision totaled 1.3 million gallons.

Last July, the average bill for water use at Eagle Pines was $257; this year, the average bill was $383 for the month.

Ten randomly selected single-family homes in the Cemetery Lane neighborhood, on the other hand, used an average of 19,000 gallons in July. Water consumption ranged from 8,000 gallons in one household to 45,000 at the high end, according to water department records. The total use for the 10 homes was 190,000 gallons.

Last year, the 10 homes (with an average ECU rating of 2.2) were billed an average of $22 for water consumption in July, compared to $24 this year.

The water department has about 5,000 customer accounts, but how many of them are paying a surcharge for excessive water use can?t be gleaned from the utility?s computer system.

There is no sunset provision on the ordinance the city adopted to institute the new rate structure, but Overeynder said he intends to return to the City Council after the irrigation season ends in October and suggest the city return to its old rates for the winter.

He said he will also suggest the city consider giving rebates to water customers who conserved water this summer, using the excess revenues generated by those who paid the higher rates for heavy water use.

?People who are excess water users wouldn?t be seeing a rebate,? Overeynder said. ?People who are staying close to the allowances would probably see a substantial rebate.?

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