Tempe City Council may be canceling its progressive water pricing that was enacted to slowly erase a structural deficit in our water/wastewater fund as well as conserve water in our City. It would be a step backwards for Tempe.
I urge that we proceed with the plan approved one year ago, when Tempe Council decided unanimously to structure rates to encourage conservation. Failing to implement the Jan. 2017 increase will cost the city ~$2.8 million in revenue and may lead to a larger and more startling increase in 2018 or beyond. It is a well-considered and necessary public policy decision.
Prolonged drought is draining the West’s largest reservoir, Lake Mead, to historically low levels. Our state’s legacy of bipartisan water stewardship has allowed us to avoid California’s water crisis, but Arizona now needs a conservation infusion.
Our cities are best equipped to help preserve an assured water supply. To encourage conservation, the City of Tempe has for many years adopted an innovative water-rate plan that rewards water conservation. In late 2015, Council passed a multi-year rate adjustment consisting of two, phased rate adjustments for single-family residents.
We designed our pricing to better reflect how residents use water, with four tiers of pricing: Tier 1 represents a typical small family’s use; Tier 2, a large family; Tier 3 represents maintenance of a quarter-acre lot; and Tier 4, those who use more than twice the amount as the average large family.
In Jan. 2016, we began the first phased increase, which reduced water bills for nearly 70% of residents — those whose water use stayed within the first two tiers. For residents in Tier 3, bills remained stable. All told, 85% of Tempe water users paid about the same or less per unit cost than in 2015. Unsurprisingly, the 15% of homeowners who used the most water generally reached the Tier 4 level in the summer.
Notably, even with the increased rates, Tempe remains the third-lowest cost provider among the Valley’s eight-largest cities.
On course to implement the second phase — a 4.75% increase in Jan. 2017 — City Council paused to hear resident concerns about higher bills Research revealed these residents were actually using more water than last year, a larger factor than the rate increase itself. In fact, overall water use was up across Tempe due to decreased rainfall events in 2016 compared to 2015.
Water conservation has long been a priority for Tempe, with aggressive goals set for 2020. Although we have made great strides in reducing indoor water use, the new rate structure was designed to crack a different nut: heavy outdoor use. By design, the bulk of the increases were to be absorbed by those regularly using more than 20,000 gal/month, with the goal of incentivizing conservation. Heavy water users (4.6% of Tempe’s homeowners) are free to use copious amounts of water, but they should also pay a higher price for that amount over the average.
In the face of a few complaints, it seems that the City’s conservation resolve is wavering. We are poised to vote Dec. 8 to halt the next, planned rate increase. Hit the pause button and we essentially delay implementation until the next scheduled bi-annual rate study concludes at the end of 2017.
After thorough research and a robust public process, Council enacted a stronger conservation plan over a year ago. Now, a vocal minority is fighting to continue using more than its fair share. In Tempe, we look to do the most good for the greatest number of people; we should not make policy for the loudest voices.
The City of Tempe is well-prepared to manage prolonged drought and reduced water supplies. We are proactive in hunting down system leaks, installing sophisticated water meters, promoting water-saving rebates and, in this instance, pricing water to encourage conservation.
Still, we should never be satisfied with our level of customer service. We also must help thirsty residents convert to drought-tolerant landscaping, offer workshops on proper watering for all xeric and grass lawns, and incentivize residents to replace inefficient fixtures, appliances, and irrigation systems.
Drought has plagued our region for 16 years. The sooner we embrace this reality of prolonged and deeper drought and see conservation as an opportunity to achieve a common good, the more resilient our city will be.
In addition to serving on the Tempe City Council, Lauren Kuby represents Tempe on the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association board.
Free home water audits
A water conservation specialist will analyze your water use, check your pipes and make recommendations on how you can manage your water consumption more efficiently. Book your free appointment by calling 480-350-2627.
Tempe offers the following rebate programs for landscape and toilet upgrades:
Landscape rebate Low-flow toilet rebate Multifamily low-flow toilet rebate
The City of Tempe offers free landscape workshops twice a year, in the spring and fall. The workshops teach residents how to beautify their yards and conserve water through xeriscaping.
The series of three workshops teaches residents how to plan, design, implement and maintain a beautifully xeriscaped yard. The workshops are held on four consecutive Saturdays, each focusing on a different phase of the process.
2017 spring workshop schedule
Saturday, April 15 – Designing and converting your landscape
Saturday, April 22 – Selecting and maintaining xeriscapes
Saturday, April 29 – Rain harvesting and greywater options
Saturday, May 6 – Learn how to install a laundry-to-landscape watering system
Saturday, May 13 – Drip irrigation design, installation and maintenance
Saturday, May 20 – Organic gardening and composting
All workshops are held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the SRP Water Education Facility at the Eisendrath Center for Water Conservation, 1400 N. College Ave (map). Participants receive a free xeriscape workbook and brochures about conversion and design, drip irrigation and maintenance. To register for any of the workshops, call Richard Bond at 480-350-2627.