The Coastal Star

Delray Beach: Proposed water rates would serve a dose of reality

By Margie Plunkett

Bigger water users in Delray Beach will pay more after commissioners signed off on a rate restructuring designed to encourage conservation.
Commissioners adopted an ordinance to adjust residential, nonresidential and irrigation rates at their Oct. 20 meeting. Under the rate changes, 75 percent of users will pay less for water, Richard E. Hasko, director of environmental services, said. Anyone who uses less than 32,000 gallons a month will see a reduction, he explained, adding: “That’s a lot of water.”
The rate restructuring wasn’t intended to boost revenue — it’s revenue neutral — or to punish waste, he said.
“It’s not an issue of people wasting water,” Hasko said. “The shallow aquifer is limited and finite. There’s growth in the municipalities now and the future. We are capped at how much we can take out of the aquifer. The only way we can meet future need is a combination of conservation and alternative resources.” The primary alternative is the reclaimed water system the city is working to expand for landscape use.
The new rates also aren’t based on demographics, he said. Still, barrier island properties in Delray Beach and Gulf Stream — where lots tend to be larger, have more landscaping and be more heavily irrigated — could be among those who feel the impact. “It’s targeted to reward low water users and send a realistic economic message to high water users,” Hasko said. “We’re not telling them they’re wasting water, but they have to reduce their use. That’s the situation we’re in now.”
He also told commissioners that they need to acknowledge they’ll be looking at a proposal for permanent water restrictions for landscape use. “It’s not going to be any more than three days a week,” Hasko said. Hasko’s explanation followed a public hearing in which one resident who spoke didn’t think it was fair. “If you use more water that doesn’t mean you waste more money,” she said, noting that she has a well. “In this economy, you may not be able to spend $4,000 to change out and get a pump.” Commissioner Gary Eliopoulos also took exception, remembering the night last week he woke up to find his yard on fire, believed to be started by dry landscaping — the result of reducing his irrigation to one day a week — in combination with the landscape lights. “People are going to go to extremes to save this water,” he said. “They’re not wasting it, they’re just watering their lawns.”
But proponents were plentiful. Commissioner Fred Fetzer said, “We need to work on educating our residents to conserve.” And Commissioner Adam Frankel said, as he’s become acquainted with the green task force, he’s changed his thought that it’s an unfair penalty. When a family sees a big spike in their bill, they have to make some changes, he said.
How it works:
The proposed commodity charge increases from the existing rates as the volume of water used rises. For instance, users of up 3,000 gallons currently pay $1.75 for each 1,000 gallons used. Under the proposal, up to 3,000 gallons of use monthly is included in the base charge. And residents who use 4,000 to 12,000 gallons month would pay $1.25 per 1,000 gallons, still lower than the existing fee. But as usage increases, the price under the proposal exceeds the existing price. By 26,000 gallons, the user under the restructured rate is paying $3.50 per 1,000 gallons, compared with $2.32 under the existing rates. Both schedules top out for 51,000 gallon-plus users, with the proposal at $4.50 per 1,000 gallons compared with $2.65 under the existing rates.
The irrigation rate rises to $2.43 per 1,000 gallons under the proposal.

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