Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Water rates challenged in Hailey

Northridge residents see big jump in water bills


By TONY EVANS
Express Staff Writer

Large lots in the Northridge subdivision of Hailey began to pay a premium price this summer for irrigation in excess of 60,000 gallons per month. Photo by David N. Seelig

Hailey officials got serious about conserving water four years ago, but not everyone in town is happy about the methods they are using.

Hailey residents are only allowed to water their lawns every other day. The city went to metered watering several years ago and a tiered pay structure last year that increases water rates quickly for those who use more than 60,000 gallons per month.

The combined effect has been that Hailey residents are using less water. In July 2007, they used 170 million gallons of water. By July 2010, that figure dropped 28 percent to 123 million gallons.

But some residents on larger lots are finding it hard to cut back. About a dozen large residential lots in Northridge subdivision have been using more water than most Hailey residents.

Northridge resident Robert Wheeler challenged the tiered pay structure at a City Council meeting on Monday, Sept. 13. He said that low-amount users pay only 50 cents per 1,000 gallons, whereas he has no choice but to pay $2.75 per 1,000 gallons for a portion of his monthly use.

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"This is not conservation—it's discrimination," said Wheeler, who lives on a one-acre lot with a green lawn and many trees. "If I use 50,000 gallons per month, my lawn would be dead."

He recommended that the city charge a flat rate for water.

Public Works Director Tom Hellen defended the city's water-rates structure, saying it rewarded those who water less, and penalizes those who use too much.

"Charging a flat rate would fly in the face of conservation efforts," Hellen said. "Our kind of rate structure is widely used across the nation."

Hellen said there are many options a landowner can use to reduce water consumption and save money.

"There are native grasses and shrubs that use less water," he said. "There are also more efficient irrigation systems on the market."

Hailey's current subdivision ordinance restricts lots in new subdivisions to no more than half an acre.

Tony Evans: tevans@mtexpress.com




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