CB council ready to lower base water allocation to residents

Going from 8,000 gallons a month to 5,000 and then lower still

[  By Mark Reaman  ]

If you live in Crested Butte and use a lot of water, you will soon be expected to pay more for the privilege. The Crested Butte town council agreed on Monday to lower the base allotment of water provided to residents basically from 8,000 gallons per EQR (Equivalent Residential Use Unit) per month to 5,000 with further reductions expected as time goes on.

The idea is to incentivize people to conserve water and an analysis of the town’s water program indicates the basic 8,000-gallon allotment is much more generous than other towns in the region. In the simplest terms, the 8,000 monthly gallons is considered one EQR for a house that is 1,875 square feet. 

Councilmember Beth Goldstone last year suggested the 8,000-gallon monthly allotment be trimmed significantly in a climate sustainability effort. Public works director Shea Earley presented analysis and potential measures to the council at the March 21 meeting. 

Earley’s memo to the council pointed out that in 1970 the Crested Butte water system serviced approximately 372 residents. Since that time the population has multiplied more than four times and the tourist impact has also risen significantly. The water usage in the summer is much more dramatic than in the winter or off-seasons with July seeing close to 20 million gallons of water used compared to six million in May. The town itself uses a lot of water in summer for park irrigation. Individual households also use much more water in the summer given things like watering lawns and gardens and they pay additional fees for water exceeding the basic 8,000-gallon per month allocation. If council approves an ordinance being formulated by the staff on council direction, the additional water fees will kick in at 5,000 gallons instead of 8,000.

Earley said adjusting the base rate structure was something for the council to seriously consider but admitted it would impact a large portion of the town population. He guessed that more than half the population already consumes more than the allotted 8,000 gallons during summer months. 

“We all need to be cognizant that water shortages in the Western U.S. are not going away,” said Earley. “We need to start doing things now to conserve water. A lot of the time we are not using water efficiently. We should see what people think coming out of the Community Compass process.”

Goldstone indicated that her research showed individuals use between 1,000 and 1,500 gallons per month on average per household. “Lowering the allotment should do one of two things,” she said. “It will either reduce water usage or increase revenues.”

“It seems like we could reduce the base allocation to 3,000 to 5,000 gallons per EQR,” said mayor Ian Billick. “It seems a no-brainer to reduce the base rate.”

“Another benefit would be that the town would decrease the amount of water it has to treat,” added Earley. “The 5,000 gallons still seems high while 3,000 gallons seems reasonable for people living in the West, which we should remember is a desert.”

Councilmember Chris Haver said he thought a reduction was appropriate but argued that the reduction be to 5,000 gallons a month. “That’s a big drop,” he said. “To drop it by more than half in one swoop is pretty significant.”

“For those of us who have gardens and lawns, we can’t just stop watering all at once,” said councilmember Mallika Magner. “No one wants a dead lawn or gardens with invasive weeds. I agree we can all move toward xeriscaping, but I would suggest we lower the base rate to 5,000 and then phase in more reductions as we move to xeriscaping.”

Town manager Dara MacDonald suggested the town devise incentives to further encourage water conservation measures that could help in a transition. Earley said there are many programs in other communities that provide incentives.

“I think utilizing some phasing to get us to a place where we are using even less water is a good thing,” said Magner.

“I’m at 3,000 gallons,” said councilmember Mona Merrill. “We are so far behind the ball we need to act.”

“I’m in favor of starting at 5,000 and phasing down,” added councilmember Jason MacMillan. “Let’s give the landscapers a chance to work with it.”

“I’ll go with 5,000 gallons for now and relook at it after the Compass is completed,” said Billick. “It sounds like at least four people on council are set at starting with a reduction to 5,000 gallons.”

MacDonald said staff would craft an ordinance reducing the base rate for monthly water allocations of one EQR to 5,000 gallons with the understanding it would be reconsidered later in the year after the Community Compass is tied up. 

Council indicated that while the base allocation would be reduced and added water use fees imposed sooner, its philosophical goal was to maintain cost neutrality with the idea that some small additional revenue could be used to pay for an incentive program.

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