Town Council May Consider Conservation

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Commercial water users account for the largest share of winter consumption increases, Public Works Director Buzz Walker told the town council at a special water meeting Thursday night.

"Going back 20 years, commercial use used to be about 10 percent of total water use, and now it is approaching 30 percent," Walker said. While he admitted such commercial increases are "a typical sign of a growing economy and a growing town," he suggested conservation efforts should be refocused from residential users to commercial users.

The special water meeting was held to acquaint the council with the first annual groundwater management status report, a 75-page document produced and written by town hydrologist Mike Ploughe. Most significant among changing water-use characteristics was a tripling in the rate of winter consumption since the release of a study by Southwest Groundwater Consultants three years ago.

While Ploughe told the council the town has "come a long way in terms of production" adding 1,300 gallons per minute to the 2,120 gallons being produced in 1997 a dry precipitation cycle, increased usage and long-term projections add up to a "reality check" for the town. "While we are looking at production in excess of peak demand for the summer of 2001, precipitation has been consistently below normal with the exception of 1997-98 our last period of significant recharge," he said.

Based on the new information revealed in the study, Town Manager Rich Underkofler closed the special meeting by proposing several changes in the narrative of the water resource management section of the town's corporate strategic plan, the document that annually prioritizes council initiatives and spending.

The town manager pointed out that while the town is currently providing water for a population of 13,620, higher per capita water consumption has lowered the number of people who can be served with existing supplies from 18,300 to 15,470. His recommendations include:

Discontinuing the town's current policy of accepting money in lieu of water for new subdivisions and other projects with 20 homes or housing equivalents or less.

Instead, the town should require developers to provide an adequate and verifiable water supply sufficient to serve the needs of the development, a requirement that the council can waive for affordable housing and economic development projects.

Adopting a 15 percent across-the-board rate increase for all consumption greater than 5,000 gallons per month to provide incentive for year-round water conservation.

With the regular meeting scheduled to begin, the council opted to study the new study and proposed recommendations before taking action.

Walker pointed out that his job reporting the facts was the easy part. "Over the next month or two your council will need to figure out how to fine tune our program to get input from the public and figure out where we need to go as far as conservation and the other recommendations," he said.

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