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New Mexico Science

Science, climate, weather and water from a New Mexico perspective

Some may see water bills dip

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Thrifty Albuquerque residential water users could soon see their rates decline slightly, while larger residential water consumers and businesses face increases of 6 to 7 percent this summer, according to a proposal before the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority this evening.

Overall, the utility expects rate revenue to rise 4 percent in the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Water utility officials say the agency needs more money to upgrade aging pipes and treatment plants and to make up revenue lost as a result of successful conservation efforts. Critics question whether the rate increases go far enough.

The new rates, if approved by the board, would take effect July 1 and would first show up in August water bills.

A typical low-use homeowner would see their average monthly water bill drop from $35.52 to $35.13, according to a staff water rates analysis to be presented to the board this evening. A typical high water user would see their average monthly bill rise from $63.22 to $67.87.

The rate cut for low water users is an attempt to reward conservation, said Stan Allred, the utility’s chief financial officer.

“We’re recognizing customers’ commitment to try to reduce their water usage,” Allred said.

Allred said the rate hikes also will help replace some of the revenue lost as Albuquerque residents use less water.

Headquartered in Albuquerque, the water utility is the local government entity that provides water and sewer service to much of the Albuquerque metropolitan area, with 172,000 homes and apartments in its service area and a population of some 640,000 people.

The utility’s board will take up the proposed rate increase, along with the agency’s $246 million annual budget, at a meeting scheduled to start today at 5 p.m. in the Vincent Griego Council Chambers in the basement of Albuquerque City Hall.

Faced with the need to maintain 3,000 miles of water pipe and 2,400 miles of sewer lines, the water utility’s managers have grown increasingly concerned in recent years that they were not spending enough to keep up with a growing backlog of infrastructure problems. Chief among them, the agency concluded in a 2011 study, was the need for $250 million in improvements to the agency’s Southside Wastewater Treatment Plant, which cleans up Albuquerque sewage before returning treated water to the Rio Grande.

Albuquerque is not alone. A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study released earlier this month concluded that U.S. utilities need to spend at least $384.2 billion from now through 2030 to keep the water flowing safely through municipal pipes.

The proposed Albuquerque rate increase will help the utility begin ramping up its spending over the next decade to begin catching up with its backlog of delayed system repair and replacement, Allred said.

Albuquerque resident Elaine Hebard, a frequent critic of the water authority, questioned whether the agency is moving quickly enough to catch up with the backlog. “We have aging everything,” Hebard said in an interview Tuesday. “I don’t like putting things off that can get us into deeper problems.”

Michael Jensen, of the water advocacy group Amigos Bravos, praised the proposal to reward residents who conserve. “I really appreciate the fact that they are increasing the discount to the low water users,” he said. But he said the rate increase for high water users does not go far enough. “They tend to be wealthier,” he said, “and they probably don’t notice.”

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