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DPU Proposes Raising Water Rates

on February 7, 2019 - 8:59am
Shown here is a water line the Department Public Utilities installed, which will connect the new well being drilled to the existing water system. One of the reasons why DPU is proposing an increase in water rates to be able to afford capital projects such as new water lines and new wells. Courtesy/LAC
 
By KIRSTEN LASKEY
Los Alamos Daily Post
 
Water usage has dropped in Los Alamos but that hasn’t stopped the expense of supplying it to customers from rising.
In fact, Department of Public Utilities (DPU) Manager Tim Glasco said the department looked at trends and water sales had dropped 20 percent over the last eight years.
 
Yet the costs kept climbing. In fact, it has gotten to the point where expenses have risen above revenue. As a result, the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) will consider a recommendation to raise the water rates 6.25 percent during its regular meeting Feb. 20.
 
Customers would see an increase in monthly service charges. Depending on their water meter size the fees would range from $10.01 for a 1 ¼ inch and under water meter to $554.76 for an 8-inch water meter. The current charge for a 1 ¼ inch meter is $9.42 and the current fee for an 8-inch water meter is $522.13.
 
The fees for water consumption would vary for residential and multi- family depending on whether it is the peak or non-peak season.
 
During the non-peak season, or October through April, both residential and multi-family customers would see the fee rise from $4.98 to $5.29 per 1,000 gallons. This is regardless of whether they use less than 9,000 or more than 15,000 gallon.
A tiered water rate goes into effect for residential and multi-family customers during the peak season, which is May through September. For residential customers, changes would be:
  • For less than 9,000 gallons, the fee would be $5.29 per 1,000 gallons.
  • For 9,000-15,000 gallons, the fee would be $5.62 per 1,000 gallons.
  • For more than 15,000 gallons, the fee would be $6.72 per 1,000 gallons.
For multi-family customers the changes would be:
  • For less than 9,000 gallons, the fee would be $5.29 per 1,000 gallons.
  • For 9,000-15,000 gallons, the fee would be $5.56 per 1,000 gallons.
  • For more than 15,000 gallons, the fee would be $5.68 per 1,000 gallons.
Since commercial customers as well as the County and the Los Alamos Public Schools are not subject to the tiered water rate, these customers would see an increase from $4.98 to $5.29 per 1,000 gallons year-round.
 
Glasco explained commercial customers were excluded from the tiered water rate because regardless of what time of year it is, the water usage at a restaurant, law office or small business is consistent.
 
The County and school district were also excluded from the tiered water rate because a good portion of the water goes to irrigating community parks or schools’ landscaping. These County spaces are for everyone’s use and benefit, Glasco said.
 
Tiered rates for residential customers were structured slightly higher for customers with single-family homes than for customers with multi-family homes. A person who lives in an apartment will generally use less water than someone who owns a house with a front and backyard, he said.
 
But what does this mean for the average homeowner’s water bill? Glasco said for customers that use 5,000 gallons of water, the new charges would total $36.46. Currently, a customer that uses 5,000 gallons of water is charged $34.32.
Even though DPU’s rates are increasing, Glasco said, “We’re still cheaper than a lot of our neighbors.”
He added the rising rates are necessary.
 
“We have to catch up with our expenses,” Glasco said.
 
 “Since we are a County-owned utility, we are not profit-driven,” Public Relations Manager Julie Williams-Hill added. “Truly this is to cover expenses.”
 
What are these expenses? It is not just the cost to distribute the water but also to perform routine repairs and replace portions of
the system as needed.
 
There are several capital projects currently being addressed. For instance, Glasco said a natural gas engine in one of the wells has reached the end of its life and the cost to replace it is around $800,000. A new well is being drilled, which comes with a $6 million price tag. There is also utility work that will need to be done on NM502 when the New Mexico Department of Transportation begins constructing its roundabout on the state road. 
 
This is on top of regular operating expenses. Glasco said the department’s biggest cost is labor. But he noted that utilities are 24/7 operations and because of Los Alamos’ topography, “we have a very complicated system.”
 
For instance, while White Rock only needs one pump station for water, Quemazon requires six stations, Glasco said.
Still, customers aren’t turning on their faucets as frequently as in the past.
 
Glasco said people have become effective at water conservation, which is a good thing. Most appliances are water efficient and many residents have chosen xeriscape landscaping over lots of grass.
 
“We just don’t use water like we used to,” he said.
 
Raising water rates isn’t a sudden, surprising issue. Glasco said last year, when the utility department presented its budget to council, it showed the 6.25 percent increase.
 
“We’re trying to put our water system on a sound operational and financial footing,” Glasco said. “We don’t like raising rates.”
 
He added the department has worked with BPU to reduce rate shock and to make rates compatible with Los Alamos’ neighbors.
 
The site in Los Alamos Canyon where DPU is drilling the new Otowi Well #2. Courtesy photo/LAC

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