Douglas approves water rate increases
STATELINE, Nev. – Amidst impassioned protests, the Douglas County Board of Commissioners approved rate hikes for customers serviced by two of the county’s three Lake Tahoe water companies Thursday.
Starting Oct. 1, average monthly rates for residential customers in the Zephyr Water Utility District will jump from $75.79 to $79.95 and average monthly rates for residential customers in the Cave Rock water system will jump from $180.82 to $202.46.
The rate increases are needed to pay for operation of the systems until the end of the county’s fiscal year on July 1, 2011, as well as to make capital improvements to bring the outdated water systems into compliance with local, state and regional regulations.
A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requirement to reduce arsenic levels in groundwater is the major driving factor for the increases, said Commission Chair Michael Olson.
Part of the increases will also be used to convert Lake Tahoe water customers to water meters, which are often required for the county to receive grant funding for water system improvements, said Commissioner Nancy McDermid.
Cave Rock water system customer Diane McCall said she was “outraged” at the increase, saying the county has been unresponsive to plans that could have prevented the steep increases to Cave Rock customers. Her monthly water rate has already increased 300 percent in 11 years, McCall said.
About a dozen other speakers who live within Cave Rock water system’s boundaries also criticized the rate increases at the Thursday meeting where they were approved. One man said the rate increases “amount to extortion.”
And the rate hikes may not be over.
Scenarios in a Thursday presentation from consultant Karyn Johnson show significant annual increases in water rates for customers of Cave Rock, Skyland and Zephyr Cover systems through 2014. In four years, Cave Rock customers could be paying as much as $303.95 a month for water under one of the scenarios.
But commissioners noted the increases approved Thursday are only scheduled to be in effect until the end of the fiscal year.
Several commissioners said they hoped to develop a long-term solution to the county’s water issues prior to then.
Although the commission voted against county-wide water system consolidation in June because of economic concerns, several expressed interest in consolidating water systems at the lake in an attempt to prevent the rate increases forecasted in Johnson’s presentation.
“These water rates are not the solution, they are an interim solution and hopefully, with everybody’s help we will get to where they are less and not more. Hopefully before July 1,” McDermid said.
A larger customer base could allow the cost of water system improvements to be spread across a larger number of customers.
Several commissioners expressed frustration at the rate increases, but said they were necessary to keep the systems operational into July.
Commissioner Doug Johnson said he supported approving the increases “basically, because we have to.”
Without the rate hikes, the county would have to obtain an outside source of funding or use reserves, said County Manager T. Michael Brown.