Reduced usage, drought conditions have caused jump in water rates |

Reduced usage, drought conditions have caused jump in water rates

DENVER ” Water rates in Colorado have greatly increased in the past four years as utilities deal with reduced usage and drought conditions, a 10-city survey by the Rocky Mountain News found.

Monthly service charges jumped an average of 25 percent, basic water-use fees increased 9 percent and costs for high-volume water use rose 56 percent on average, the newspaper reported Tuesday.

“When water is scarce, the price should go up because of the laws of supply and demand,” said Janie Chermak, a natural resources economist who studies water rates at the University of New Mexico.

“But consumers don’t understand,” she said. “They say, ‘We did what you asked. We’re using less water. (But) you’re raising our rates.’ “

Aurora charged the most of the 10 cities surveyed by the Rocky Mountain News at $2.69 per thousand gallons, while Vail charged the least at $1.06 per thousand gallons.

Some cities, including Fort Collins, Grand Junction and Steamboat Springs, lowered their monthly service fees during the drought, but increased water consumption fees to offset losses.

Other utilities raised service fees dramatically, such as Denver Water, which raised its monthly service fee 89 percent, and Colorado Springs, which boosted service fees 35 percent between 2001 and 2004.

Denver raised its fees, in part, to reduce its dependence on revenue from water sales, according to Marie Bassett, the utility’s director of public affairs. This year, sales are projected to be about $23 million less than the utility budgeted.

“Our costs are mostly fixed,” Bassett said. “So when we have a drop like that, all we can do is dip into cash reserves. We’ve also delayed capital projects and held jobs open. There’s not much else we can do.”

Utilities also are charging more for high-volume residential use. Colorado Springs, Aurora, Fort Collins and Vail have raised high-volume rates by more than 100 percent since 2001.

“The whole idea (behind the rate increases) was to change behaviors,” said Dennis Gelvin, manager of the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, which serves the Vail area.

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