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Considering Flagstaff’s Water Rates

BarotzEvery five years, the Flagstaff City Council reviews the city’s water rates, which fund the city utility’s daily operations and capital projects such as replacing aging water lines.

Here are some important points to consider:


  • With tiered water rates, which reward customers who use water efficiently and discourage waste, Flagstaff residents have done a great job of reducing their consumption of potable water without compromising their quality of life.


  • Some Flagstaff businesses and institutions have reduced their water consumption while growing their operations. For instance, Flagstaff Medical Center, NAU and SCA Tissue have all reduced their potable water use by more than 30 percent over the past decade.


  • The cost of Flagstaff’s plan to build a 40-mile water pipeline to the Red Gap Ranch exceeds the city’s bonding capacity. If Flagstaff can continue to reduce its per capita water consumption, the city will defer by decades the need to build the Red Gap Ranch pipeline and provide time for alternate technologies to mature.


With tiered rates, the higher cost of “the last gallon purchased” provides a financial incentive to conserve, whether that’s through changed behavior, changed processes or investments in water-efficient equipment. That’s true even if the customer purchases most of their water at a lower cost per gallon in a lower tier.


Flagstaff should consider adopting tiered rates for our commercial customers who use 60 percent of Flagstaff’s water. The Council rightfully rejected a poorly constructed tiered rate proposal offered by the city’s rate consultant. However, the City Council should request a fairer, smarter non-residential tiered rate structure that will be revenue-neutral and reduce water bills for 80 percent of customers while increasing costs for remaining customers by no more than 10 percent.


Tiered rates are not only for potable water. Tiered rates for reclaimed water are important because they will allow us to expand the user base (currently, the city’s reclaimed supply is overcommitted in the summer months) and to maintain greater flows for riparian habitats and aquifer recharge.


Given population growth, finite aquifers, climate change and the challenges we see in drought-stricken California, the city of Flagstaff should continue to take steps to ensure a viable water supply into the future. Two-thirds of Arizona cities have tiered rates for all their customers (residential and non-residential). It’s time for Flagstaff to join them. FBN

By Celia Barotz

Celia Barotz is the vice-mayor for the City of Flagstaff. Any opinions in this column are those of Celia Barotz and not necessarily the views of the City Council.

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