Friday, October 15, 2004

Round two, Hailey meter vaults in

Final phase to be completed 2005

Express Staff Writer

Last week the City of Hailey completed a second season of a $1.4 million water meter installation project funded by a federal matching grant program. After a troublesome first round of installing the white tubular vaults in old Hailey in 2003, experience and a more courteous contractor have made the process of installation easier, said Hailey City Engineer Tom Hellen.

A complication of the project, particularly in old Hailey where the first vaults went in, was fuzzy understanding of where private property meets the public right of way. Residents have seen holes dug in the public right of way adjacent to their homes. This year vaults were installed in the Deerfield, Hiawatha, Northridge, China Gardens, Airport Way and Della View neighborhoods.

Hellen said this year out of common courtesy the contractor, Walton Inc. of Hayburn, made a habit of fixing anything damaged during digging, such as replacing sprinkler heads at their own cost even if they happened to be in the city right of way.

Forty-nine percent of the water meter project is being funded through connection fees and 51 percent through a $750,000 EPA grant.

?The premise of this grant is the conservation of water,? said Hailey City Clerk Heather Dawson, who wrote the grant applications. ?Numbers from studies show huge per capita uses (in Hailey) that exceed the national average.?

A 2000 study showed that Hailey residents use 482 gallons per capita, per day, with a summer peak of 1,472 per capita per day. The national average in 2000 was 180 gallons per capita, per day, and for the state it was 384 gallons.

The processes of shifting Hailey business owners and residents from a flat fee to a metered rate to pay for water has been in the works for several years. The goal is to charge for water based on actual per gallon use. Water meters have been required for new construction since 1992. In 2000 Hailey city leaders voted to pursue the federal dollars to help bring older homes up to date. Businesses already receive water bills showing actual use. Currently, businesses that use over 20,000 gallons per month and larger residential properties, during the irrigation season, pay a surcharge.

The city hopes to begin giving residential users concurrent bills to show actual use by the 2005 irrigation season. At that time the last meter vaults will have been installed for pre-1992 Woodside properties. The interim goal is to educate residents about their use, with the ultimate hope that knowledge and the eventual charge per gallon will inspire water conservation.

?You don?t want to just throw a meter rate at somebody,? Hellen said. He added that one of the biggest challenges of his job is to determine the meter rate. Ultimately, the average water user now should see little change in their bill from what they pay with the flat rate of $15.13 and surcharges during summer.

The successful process of securing the federal matching grant started after city leaders reviewed recommendations for how to improve the city?s water infrastructure. Hellen?s recommendations included the installation of upgraded water transmission lines on north end of Hailey, a new water tank still being planned and the water meters. A second application filed with the EPA tied an congressional appropriation specifically to the water meter vault project in 2001.

Dawson said if the city hadn?t gotten the federal grant the city would have had to pay for the meters through the metered rate.

During concurrent billing, water users would still be charged at the flat rate. The Hailey City Council will have to settle on a meter rate before the concurrent bills will be distributed. Dawson said she expects that the issue will show up on the council agenda soon.

Hellen said the monthly task of reading meters, which are designed to transmit a radio signal with the number of the meter and the reading of gallons used, is a one-day project. The signals have a range of 500 feet and can be picked up by receivers in city vehicles.

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