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Forecast: Surging water rates simple, blunt message.

Staff worked last week for Story at a glance


It gets worse. state loans or federal stimulus The Lubbock City Council on Thursday will take up a five-year package of water
conservation,supply Years spent buying water un-. money to trim future increases. rate increases intended to ensure sufficient cash flow to pay off bonds sold to
der the spectre of rationing and Council members searched pay for water and sewer system expansion and upgrades.
needs signal.long-term shortfalls have come due. The for alternatives to this year's Among the elements of the plan:
trend of higher costs city has committed almost half increase. IAn immediate increase in the meter fee totaling more than $160 for homeswith older
a billion dollars to secure, re- But no known program would meters and more than $270 for homes with larger meters in newer partsof thecity.
BY ELLIOTT BLACKBURN trieve and treat a far-flung water completely swallow the increas- Customers whose use reaches the second and third tiers would also see an im-
mediate 16 percent increase in rates in each tier.
AVALANCHE-JOURNAL
supply for its residents. es. The collision of two major I In 2011, the meter rate would increase again, by $97 a year for older homes, and
Early forecasts show contin- city water efforts - conserva- $162 per year for newer homes.
For customers shocked by wa- ued, at times sharp, rate in- tion and new supplies - had I All water use rates would increase by 10 percent per year from 2012 through 2015.
ter rate increases the Lubbock creases over the next six years created a "perfect storm," one Part of what triggered the situation was a highly successful conservation
City Council will consider this to pay for improvements to the campaign that started in 2007, which has city officials concernedthat there
Thursday, the numbers offer a water system. SEE WATER, PAGE A7 wouldn't be enough income tooperate the water utility and repay the debt.
NEWS LUBBOCK AVALANCHE-JOURNAL SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 22,2009 A7

WATER: Some council members not yet sold on proposal for higher rates
FROM PAGE A1 This year's increases follow the addi- to avoid forced water rationing - pro- loans on the improvements, Deputy City respond to those because the ball was
observer said. tion of debt on $19 million committed to moted conservation efforts. Manager Tom Adams said. dropped."
And only one council member ruled final design of a pipeline from Lake Alan Weather, prices and other factors can Though Congress trimmed much of the Reluctant supporters said the proposal :
out pursuing additional water rights or Henry, $3.8 million to purchase rights on push water consumption up and down. water funding from the massive stimu- accurately charges the true cost of deliv-
other projects if the right opportunity the land it will cross and another $20.5 But from a cash flow perspective, the lus bill passed last week, some money ering water to city sinks and baths. Pur-
arose. million on 13 water projects around the conservation effort appears to have remained, and the city hoped for better chasing supplies and pipes to move the *
"We're not talking about building city. worked too well. federal grant opportunities, he said. water cost money, even if customers don't
a visitors center here," Lubbock also pays debt on water sup- Water consumption dropped 17 per- That could save Lubbock millions on use much of the resource when it arrives.
Mayor Tom Martin said. ply and infrastructure projects through cent in 2007, one of the 20 wettest years in interest, though Burcham cautioned "My feelings all along have been that
"We're talking about the the Canadian River Municipal Water the last century and the first year of the against expecting enormous rate ben- capital expenses are what base meter
vital service of water for Authority, still its main source of drink- tiered water rate system. In 2008, when efits from that help. charges exist for," Martin said. "That
our city." ing water, totaling $38 million. construction problems forced summer "The interest rates don't drive things was, I think, the flaw that existed in the.
City water advisers Those figures will climb. Lubbock es- water rationing, the city sold more water as much as you'd think," Burcham said. model that was enacted two years ago."
recommended Thursday timates total Lake Alan Henry pipeline but still not as much as in 2006. "A lower interest rate certainly helps, The mayor, who left the council in 2006
Mart~n more than doubling the efforts to cost roughly $240 million. The "The citizens of Lubbock took it seri- but a lot of it is the outright cost of the after an unsuccessful run for his current
flat monthly meter rate all 'city's commitments through the river ously, and of course they projects." job, said the significant
customers pay before they have used a authority for new water and pipelines did that," Councilman The new plan had mixed increases were not a sur-
drop of water. They also recommended to deliver them total $78 million. A new Floyd Price said of the support from council prise.
16 percent increases to water rates wastewater treatment facility, billed conservation campaign. members last week, who But the shortcomings of
designed to cover irrigation and high- through the sewer rates but also part of "All the sudden, now worried about fixed- and the city's rate plan were,
volume use. long-term water supply plans, will cost they're paying a high price low-income households. he said.
The proposal immediately adds more $133 million. for what the city of Lub- Councilman Paul Beane "Apparently, it didn't
than $160 to annual residential budgets Still more millions will pay for repair- 0 0 Ebb
bock asked them to do." KLeln would support the plan if DeLeon work," Martin said. "So
in older sections of Lubbock, and more ing, replacing or shuffling aging water Lubbock's focus on it included exemptions for now we're going to go to a
than $270 for homes using larger meters pipes out of the way of other construc- monthly meter rates allows the city to hundreds of homes. Councilman Todd model,we believe will work."
more common in newer sections of the tion or improvements. take some uncertainty out of its budget, Klein was hunting for alternatives, too. Councilmen Price and Jim Gilbreath
city. Grim forecasts of a water shortfall in- and keeps customers from dodging the "I have some great reservations did not see much of a choice on the new
Projections show costs climbing even spired the investments. Lake Meredith, cost by further curbing their water use. about the current situation and the rates.
more in 2011. Older homes add another once the primary source of water for Based on current trends, the water de- consequences that's going to present "Failure is not an option and there's
$97 through the year- newer homes add Lubbock and 10 other Panhandle com- partment would fall millions of dollars the ratepayers, many of who are on tight no alternatives," Gilbreath said.
another $162. munities, has withered to levels not seen short on its debt obligations if it relied incomes," Klein said. "I think there are "Where do you start ahd where do you
Prices customers pay for the water since cities filled the lake more than 40 on water sales alone. some viable options out there. The bot- stop?" with exemptions, he asked. "I
they use begin to climb in 2012, too, by years ago. Population forecasts when The difference in money would need tom line is whether the City Council is don't know."
10 percent for all three of the city's wa- the projects were planned concluded to come out of the general fund from prepared to take those on." Councilwoman Linda DeLeon said the
ter tiers, according to projections. The that Lubbock could be facing a water property taxes, Chief Financial Officer Councilman John Leonard, who told rates demonstrated continued neglect
10 percent yearly increases continue shortfall by 2012. Andy Burcham said. staff during last week's meeting he was of routine maintenance and other tax
through 2015. But officials had hoped for a more When Lubbock faced a similar situa- "shocked" and "disgusted" by the need demands. She would not support them,
Larger meters set for commercial cus- capitalist means of paying for all the tion with its electric company years ago, for the increases, did not know how he she said.
tomers increase on a similar schedule. construction. the transfers damaged city bond ratings would vote this week. "I just don't think it's the right thing to
Sewer rates, billed separately, jump and New water rate tiers introduced in and cost more than 100jobs. "I'm not sure what I'm going to do," do," DeLeon said. "I know we need wa-
fall over the same period. 2007 imposed higher rates on the cus- Staff hoped for some outside help Leonard said. "I'm getting bombarded ter, but we've got to find another plan."
The rates pay for projects retrieving tomers that used the most water. this time. Lubbock had worked with the with comments, e-mails, customers say- To comment on this story:
water from tens or hundreds of miles At the same time, the city - wary of Texas Water Development Board to im- ing they can't believe this is happening. ~ ~ i o t t ~ a c ~ ~ ~ u t i m c k o ne~ m
i n e-~8c o~m
away. its withering water supply and hoping prove the city's chances at low-interest Too much, can't afford it. It's hard to walt.nett@lubbockonline.com @766-8706