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 Author: crow
PostPosted: Wed Jun 11, 2014 11:58 pm 
Water: Together we, the 10,315 residents own our water and delivery system, ie: there is no outside owner/operator making money from it. We also own and are responsible for the water after we flush it down the sewer. We have to find an equitable way to fund this massive 2 part system. Grant money to improve our systems, while still available is getting harder to find.

In August 2013 a massive 77 page Water Conservation Plan was approved by the Town Council. But by July 2013 water rtes had already been adjusted upward and 1 year later at last Monday's (June 9, 2014) Town Council meeting the rates were again adjusted upwards. Two, seemingly opposing movements are taking place simultaneously, to conserve (lower) water use and at the same time to pay for the systems of delivery and disposal without going broke nor creating a burdensome load on the rate payer/water user especially for those actively conserving water. It's an interesting conflict, as we save water the price per gallon goes up because the systems remain basically the same.

In July 2013 the rates were adjusted from 3,000 gallons included in the base rate of $10.25 to 2,000 gallons and the price per 1,000 (starting at the 3,000 gallon point) was adjusted from $3.44 to $3.74 per 1,000 gallons. We're talking whats called Tier 1 users, mostly residences and small businesses. Tier 2 use starts at 10,000 gallons per month and they saw a rate increase from $4.21 per 1,000 gal to $4.51. At that time and still today, the cost of delivery and disposal systems are being subsidized from the General Fund through a dedicated "Tax Increment" but the General Fund was/is taking other hits and something needed to be done, The 2013 rate increase stimulated water conservation to the point that the needed increase of revenue was nearly canceled out.

Come June 2014, one year later, the Town Council raised the rates again by eliminating the 2,000 gallons included in the $10.25 base rate and billing for them which will affect all water bills starting with the June billing cycle and also include all water associations and out of town double rate payers. Although a "Notice of Intent" notice was passed in May and made so in June the controversy is just getting underway with charges of "Regressive Rates" for the small users and the poor and for those of us who take to heart the local food movement and grow vegetable gardens will take a real punch in the gut. Note also that the own Council is still resistant to raising the minimum wage to help the working poor pay for these increasing costs of living!!?

The Town Council has been made aware of the citizens displeasure as has Alex Brown, Town Manager/Finance Director, who pledges to reconsider but not for the June bills. Brown tells me he is looking at including a new Tier, among other suggestions, to the rate structure making the 10,000+ gallons users Tier 3 and adding a Tier 2 where the small user starts to pay more somewhere between 2,000 and 5,000 gallons but no decisions have been made. Does Brown and the council need some well thought out creative input?

A brief and very incomplete view of our dual system:

There are 110 miles of water pipes of different sizes ranging from 15 inch to 1 inch plus an undetermined length of pipes between water mains and each water meter.
On this pipe system are about 900 fire hydrants which the Fire Dept tests and the Utilities Dept repairs when needed.
Last year an average of 1,688,765 gallons per day was pumped into the delivery system, which is a steady decrease yearly over the last 10 years. One of the greatest decrease aside from water conservation at the user level was a more aggressive pursuit of water leaks which also had the affect of reducing the pumping of un-billed for water. The Utilities Dept now hires a company to come twice a year with their high-teck equipment to hunt for undetected leaks and they always find some, see my article here on one recent major fix resulting from these surveys..

Water Meters- According to the 2013 Water Conservation Plan there are 5,293 residential accounts/meters plus more when businesses and 4 Water Association meters are added.

There has been talk for some time about "Smart Meters" so not long ago the Town undertook a test of a system it is considering and will be visiting 2 municipalities, 1 in California and a 2nd in Taos NM who use the system. The test was performed using 40 meters that had the upper half of the meter replaced with digital readers that recorded usage every 15 minutes and 20 standard meters for comparison. A water department vehicle was fitted with a wireless reader so that as the vehicle drove by the meter, the reading was taken thus greatly reducing the "man hours" needed each month just for reading the meters to about half. (this will free up 2 employees to be moved over to the understaffed Utilities Dept.) Early on in the test the Town, using the new system, identified 15 homes with leaks previously unnoticed with the conventional meters, the residents were notified. Some kind of automated meter system is in the future.

Pumps: the Utilities Dept maintains a number of of large capacity pumps; 5 or 6 in its still viable wells plus a number of booster pumps to lift water to its 12 water tanks (3 raw/untreated water and 9 treated water tanks) and out to the 4 Water Association Master Meters. On a side note: for the past month the water tanks have not been full because the pump in the largest capacity well, the 800 foot, Million dollar Gabby Hays Well, has been in the repair shop on a warranty repair; its output had dropped from 1250 GPM to about 800. Upon the removal of the Gabby Hays pump the other wells could not keep up with demand and the tanks remained significantly less than full. The pump was reinstalled June 10th and will be pumping into the system by the end of the week; good thing there were no catastrophic fires or the system could have crashed.

Colonias grants, part of the Community Development Block Grant(CDBG)- This competitive state grant program for infrastructure, mostly for water and sewer improvements for qualifying low income neighborhoods and communities is "sunsetting" in about 2 years. This program has been extensively leveraged throughout the County and its municipalities. The latest grant just approved this week for the Utilities Dept is for $591,000 to purchase a "Belt Filter Press" at the Sewer Treatment Plant. The Press will streamline the drying of the sludge pressing it replacing the current method of evaporation ponds (a problem in winter), before it goes to the landfill, saving a lot of time and money; that is if the money comes. A year ago a Colonias grant was awarded for the F St sewer line upgrade and lift station but the money still hasn't come from the state and the project languishes.

New and creative ways to pay our own way needs to be explored, talked about and proposed by the community so that a method is devised to make our current water system resilient and sustainable, keeping rates fair and equitable while encouraging more conservation.

 Author: ynotwrite2
PostPosted: Sat Jun 21, 2014 3:43 pm 
Good article, Crow.
1) estimate what part of the water system is for fire protection.
2) est. what part is for public heath
3) est what part would meet the basic needs of the typical individual
all the remaining water to be billed at a per thousand rate that pays for the excess infrastructure, 1) and 2) be paid with GRT as everyone in the county benefits from the economic, social ,and political life of the county seat.
as to deposits:
keep them low. the $100 is okay . evidence of hardship should be used to waive or delay this payment. a small extra amount be added to everyone's bill who uses above the minimum in 3) to take care of the deadbeats and skippers. i really dislike the destructive presumption that renters should be socked with large penalties because they faced hard economic choices and came up short on their water bill.

The town turns to outside consultants too often, are we that stupid and ignorant that almost every time there's a problem we finesse it with outside suit and tie advice ?

we live in a desert, our water consumption should reflect this stark fact, the future of simple profligacy could well be at an end for new mexico and for us in grant county. this so called diversion of the gila and the struggle over who gets what may well be coming to a scene where we're dogs fighting over table scraps. how foolish we'll look. and there's always outhouses and bottled water.

the broken pump and not full tanks: town don't be shy, there's local media, tell the townfolk the situation and we'll use less water.our property as crow put it is a common good requiring infrastructure, if informed, we'll likely do right by it, and treat it well as well.

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