This month we all received utility rate increases that were voted on by the City Council back in May. The only nay vote at the time was City Councilman Cam Walker.
The reason for the increases were clear. A report showed that our past rates were not sustainable. Our infrastructure would deteriorate faster than we collected money to replace it. Given this, I applaud the council’s willingness to tackle a tough issue and do what no politician wants to do and raise rates.
But while an increase was likely needed, I believe they got the details wrong.
A direct comparison on rates throughout the valley is difficult to do. Each jurisdiction has different service rates and different tiers of rates based on usage. How Southern Nevada Water Authority fees are added is also different from one jurisdiction to the next.
What is clear is that when it comes to water, Boulder City has the flattest rates. In every community in Southern Nevada, water gets more expensive the more you use. The first water you take from your tap each month is the cheapest and the last, likely the most expensive.
This is similar throughout the country and is this way for two reasons: First, we have decided that you shouldn’t have to pay as much for water to bathe, drink and clean as you do for water for your lawn or pool. Second, we want to encourage good conservation behavior.
The lowest rate in Boulder City is more expensive or as expensive as our neighbors, but our upper rate is the cheapest by a significant margin. Henderson’s highest rate is $4.41 per 1,000 gallons, and Boulder City’s is $2.73. Add to this the fact that our highest rate doesn’t kick in until the user is using 60,000 gallons of water, compared to Henderson where the highest rate kicks in at 30,000 gallons.
So basically, what this means is if you are a small water user, say you live in an apartment or small residential home, then you will pay similar or more than an equivalent user over the hill. But if you are a large homeowner with lots of lawn, a pool and a snow machine, you will pay far less than an equivalent user over the hill. (OK, I don’t know anyone with a snow machine, but given our recent temperatures, I have been looking into getting one.) So, the more water you use the better deal Boulder City water rates are when compared to what you would pay over the hill.
Historically, Boulder City has been friendlier to lush landscaping. Because of rapid construction and wind leading to incessant dust problems, early in our history, they used to offer lower rates to homes with lawns. Our current low rates for the biggest users is likely a carryover from this past, but perhaps we need to rethink this.
There has been much talk by the City Council about the need to attract young families to our community. Perhaps the water rates as currently structured are sending the wrong message and discouraging the very people we want to attract while encouraging behavior we want to avoid.
Nathaniel Kaey Gee resides in Boulder City with his wife and six kids. He is a civil engineer by day and enjoys writing any chance he gets. You can follow his work on his blog www.thegeebrothers.com.