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          Front Page




Water Loophole May Dry Up

By Sean Olson
Journal Staff Writer
       The city-county water board tonight could close a loophole that lets some high water users escape penalties for hogging water in the summer months.
    The board will take up an amendment that would affect the top 1 percent of residential water users in Albuquerque, who officials say account for 5 percent of total residential water use.
    It would impose higher penalties on about 1,500 residential users who use large amounts of water in the winter months, defined by the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority as December through March, water authority executive director Mark Sanchez said Tuesday.
    For example, the No. 1 residential water user had a $2,989 water bill in 2007. Under the proposed change, it would be $4,811. The 2007 bill that included sewer services was $4,335, and that would increase to $6,157.
    The proposed amendment would charge $1.41 extra per unit of water to customers using more than 84 units per month in the summer, Sanchez said. Another $1.41 would be added for every unit above 112.
    One unit is about 748 gallons. The 84 units is triple the average winter use of the 1,500 highest residential water users. Most residential users average 10 units or less in the winter months and about 133 units in a year.
    Water board chairwoman Deanna Archuleta said Monday the amendment is intended as a stopgap measure until rate consultants for the authority can analyze the system and propose a permanent penalty structure.
    "Clearly there is a portion of the population that have managed to work around the current ordinance," she said.
    The current ordinance only penalizes people who use more than three or more times their winter average. So those who have excessive winter usage might consume significantly more water in the summer than their neighbors, but they don't get hit with a surcharge.
    Sewer charges are also determined by winter average. If a winter average is high for one customer, they will have to pay a higher sewer charge all year.
    The surcharge issue was raised after the Journal found that Tim Cummins, a water board member and Bernalillo County commissioner, used about 950,000 gallons of water in his Northeast Heights home in 2007 and did not pay a single surcharge for excessive summer use.
    Cummins has since found that he is losing about 1,800 gallons a day from the water system in his home and has said he is working "aggressively" to fix the problem.
    Cummins ranked sixth highest among all residential water users in Albuquerque in 2007.
    If the amendment is passed in tonight's meeting, the new penalties will take effect Sept. 1 and affect high water users through November. The water board plans to pass a permanent ordinance before April, when the summer billing months begin again, Sanchez said.