Water Department Facing Revenue Shortfall

Water Department Facing Revenue Shortfall

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John Daley ReportingPay a little more now or else we'll all end up paying a lot more later. That's the message from both water watchdogs and Salt Lake water managers today.

Due to conservation, city residents can expect their water rates to go up. Salt Lake changed its water rate structure earlier this year and officials said 'the less water you use, the lower rate you'll pay.'

The conservation message has sunk in, so much so that now the water department has to make up for a revenue shortfall. When it comes to water conservation Salt Lake residents have done their civic duty, cutting down on lawn watering and converting over to water wise landscaping. The result: a good news/bad news scenario.

There will be a lot more water to carry over until next year in the reservoirs because city water customers have used 18% less water than they did over the same period last year. But that decrease has created a projected 3.3 million dollar revenue shortfall for the city's Department of Public Utilities.

The department has several options now: cut costs, look at bonding or raising rates. Stephanie Duer, the water conservation coordinator, says the city was caught off guard because residents saved even more than expected.

Stephanie Duer, Water Conservation Coordinator: "But very few businesses operate on the presumption that they're going to encourage the public to not buy their product. And so we continue with this intent to save water because long-term it will save us money."

Public utilities have a nickname for this dilemma--its called a "death spiral" because by doing the right thing and conserving--the utility's bottom line is hurt. But water watchdogs say with a scarce and dramatically under-priced resource like water we either pay more now or pay more later.

Dan McCool, Director, American West Center: "If we didn't raise rates and people didn't conserve, in the long run it would cost people even more money. If you think conservation is expensive, try building huge dams; everyone's taxes would go and we'd be paying taxes of all sorts to pay for that kind of thing."

Zach Frankel, Utah Rivers Council: "The way to think about it is that if I reduce my water use today, I save money for my children tomorrow. They won't have to pay as much."

The University of Utah's Dan McCool thinks the city should go even further to encourage conservation. He's asked the mayor and city council to consider establishing a water conservation fund, which would give homeowners and businesses some financial incentives to replace thirsty lawn with a water-wise landscape.

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