Five Months After Griggs Suggested Charging Water Hogs More, An Analysis and Options

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From Thursday's council briefing on upping Dallas's residentai water rates for those who use the most H20
In September, as the council was putting the finishing touches on the current budget, Scott Griggs and Angela Hunt suggested the city revisit its resident water rate structure -- specifically, they said, the city up the amount charged to those who use the most water. Insisted the council member from Oak Cliff, "Ten percent of our resident use one-third of our water. Our tier structure right now is our largest crop in Dallas is St. Augustine, and we're subsidizing that." Hunt concurred, but Mayor Mike Rawlings was skeptical, saying, "Conservation is one thing, revenue generation is another thing, and punishing people is another thing." At which point City Manager Mary Suhm said she'd have her staff crunch the numbers, and that she's come back to council early this year with a look-see at what could be done.

On Thursday, during a specially called meeting of the council's Budget, Finance, and Audit Committee, Dallas Water Utilities Director Jody Puckett will deliver that analysis, conducted by consulting firm Black & Veatch, which has also suggested two options for increasing rates. Those docs are below.

But long story short: In 2002, the last time residential rates were reviewed, the city added a fourth tier to rates in the hopes that charging more to folks who used more than 15,000 a month would encourage conservation. (If memory serves, the average Dallas homeowner is billed for 100,000 gallons used per year ... unless you're, say, Tom Hicks.) But per the chart you see above, the city's not meeting its conservation goals; as Hunt said in September, "Our water conservation work has been successful, but we could do so much more." According to the analysis, 26 percent of the city's residents use more than 15,000 gallons a month.

So, says Black & Veatch, the city could always add a fifth tier. But where to draw the line?

Per Option No. 1, it could start at the 30,000-gallon mark, which would include 14.2 percent of the city's customers. Or, per Option No. 2, it could start a little lower, at the 25,000-gallon mark, which would impact close to 18 percent of Dallas's lawns. The briefing doesn't suggest a new rate structure, and says that either one of those two choices "may reduce overall water consumption by 0.3 percent."

But the briefing doesn't seem entirely optimistic about the benefits of adding a fifth tier. It says that doing so "requires additional costs to revise rate structure in billing system," "could result in increased customer call volume and customer billing complaints" and "will require a few years to determine actual customer usage patterns."BFA_ResidentialRate_020912
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RTGolden
RTGolden

Unfortunately, this is Dallas.  First you'd have to commission yet another feasibility study on the logic, as it were, of getting the PLC's.  After that, you'd have a round of backslapping and under-table deal cutting to get the PLC contract to the most logical choice for contractor, that being someone related to someone on the City council, the citizen's council, the perot's, or the jones'.  Then to get the PLC's installed you have to dart-throw into the various fiefdoms around the city and county and dole out sub-contracts to friends of commissioners, preachers, neighborhood leaders, etc (making sure to include plenty of 'walkin' round money' and 'equity').  Thus your relatively inexpensive PLC's end up costing more than it would cost to build a fresh-water pipeline from the polar icecap to Dallas.  (In case you didn't know, this is how it ends up costing $26k/mile to add bike lanes to city streets.)

T. Erickson
T. Erickson

How about enforcing the current regulations? My early-morning runs take me through Preston Hollow, where many lawns are watered daily. Aren't we supposed to still be twice a week?

BigTex
BigTex

The city is not proactive in issuing code enforcement citations........so you have to call it in or submit in online every time you see it and the city will send someone out and only if you report it!!

Wylie H.
Wylie H.

Any chance of finding out how much Black & Veatch was paid to perform this "study?"  It looks like something that could have easily been thrown together by a city staffer in 5 - 8 hours, max.

Wylie H.
Wylie H.

Another thing I noticed on closer reading of the City's briefing:  it completely glosses over three items:

1)  Heavy commercial water users pay in the City of Dallas only pay $1.75/gal on the 1st million gallons of usage per month (versus the $6.25/gal paid by residential users for amounts over 15,000 gallons of usage per month).

2)  The top tier rate for City of Dallas residential water users of $6.25/gal is substantially larger than that charged by any other municipality served by Dallas Water Utilities.  Lewisville residential customers of DWU pay a max of $3.30/gal (47% discount); Addison residential customers of DWU pay a max of $4.57/gal (27% discount); Carrollton residential customers of DWU pay a max of $2.66/gal (57% discount); Duncanville residential customers of DWU pay a max of $5.30/gal (15% discount); DeSoto  residential customers of DWU pay a max of $4.55/gal (27% discount); Cedar Hill residential customers of DWU pay a max of $4.98/gal (20% discount); etc., etc. 

3)  Some of the suburban customers of DWU appear to be making big money by purchasing cheap wholesale City of Dallas water, marking it up, and selling it to residents.

Raymond
Raymond

"will require a few years to determine actualcustomer usage patterns.": Translation: We're not going to do anything. Take short showers.

guest
guest

Those northern, winter grasses that both homeowners and commercial buildings plant because they are green year round take a tremendous amount of water during the summer to stay alive. There has to be a way to "encourage" them to plant more intelligently.

Tim Covington
Tim Covington

1. Make it mandatory to plant native grasses.-or-2. Provide financial incentives for planting native grasses.

mark zero (Jason)
mark zero (Jason)

We could add some kind of incentive for new home construction where the water sprinklers use grey water and rain water, as well. That's probably a lower-tech solution than one requiring a lot of sensors. :)

Tim Covington
Tim Covington

I completely agree with this. My morning commute often involves driving west on Walnut Hill Lane. There is always a long stream of water coming down the hill from yards west of Audelia. It does not matter the weather or watering restrictions. There is either some sort of leak along there or someone's overwatering their yard every morning, regardless of conditions.

Naaa
Naaa

Hey how about a discount for people who actually use less water! My bill is basically the minimum every month and most of that is for a trash service I don't use. I guess my cash is needed to subsidize all the racist angry negros the water department hires

Wylie H.
Wylie H.

While I respect the intent of both Hunt and Griggs--- here is the problem:  only a fraction of the customers of Dallas Water Utilities live within the City of Dallas.

When one city (Dallas) is running a municipal water system (Dallas Water Utilities) on behalf of a group (20+ other cities), it seems that it would be essential that the managing city have the ability to regulate retail water rates UNIFORMLY across the entire system.  For reasons I don't understand, Suhm failed to negotiate this essential requirement during the last round of negotiations with the customer cities.

As a result, the City of Dallas lacks the tools to manage conservation across the water system.  Every time the City of Dallas implements conservation measures, they only apply to City residents-- this creates an incentive for City of Dallas residents with large yards to move to the suburbs (where they can still purchase City of Dallas water at lower prices) or to move to the Park Cities (which has its own water system).

The ONLY way that the City of Dallas can effectively manage consumption across the entire territory served by Dallas Water Utilities is to have the ability to charge uniform retail rates to ALL customers (not just those in the City of Dallas).  Otherwise, it just becomes yet another exercise in hammering City of Dallas residents so that suburbanites with big yards, swimming pools and lush golf courses may benefit through our sacrifice.

On a related note, Dallas Water Utilities should be operating the entire system from collection to the customer's tap (even if that customer lives in another city)-- this avoids today's situation wherein suburbs are able to purchase City of Dallas water at bargain rates, mark it up, and collect windfall profits from their residents.  This transfer pricing mechanism creates a backdoor scheme under which the City of Dallas appears to be subsidizing the municipal operations of our suburban neighbors.

These principles are well understood in other areas of the country-- not sure why they are so difficult to implement here.

On another note, it is also quite silly to be discussing additional punitive actions to take against residential customers while commercial users within the City of Dallas (including frackers) continue to pay heavily discounted rates for water use. The whole system needs to examined from top to bottom and there's no need to hire a high priced firm like Black & Veatch to study this--- just give it to some MBAs from SMU as a very easy class project.

mark zero (Jason)
mark zero (Jason)

I have a tangential question regarding the industrial customers of water, most especially the companies using it in fracking: are they getting fully-treated water, or untreated water, or something in between?

I mean, I could see a manufacturer like Texas Instruments, for example, needing to start with drinkable-quality municipal water that they then purify even further for use in a fab. But it escapes me why we'd sell frackers the same quality of water (if we do), when they're just going to poison it and pump it into the ground. And I don't think we should be subsidizing the cost of water for any large-volume industrial customer, regardless.

Scruffygeist
Scruffygeist

It's a good question, but likely the answer is they're all using treated, potable water. Otherwise who's footing the bill on that system of pipes to provide a whole different class of water? It'd essentially require a whole second set of infrastructure underground.

Oak Cliff Townie
Oak Cliff Townie

 Its not a problem until its a problem .And then its not a Really a problem until its a real problem .And when it becomes a real problem it will be to late to deal with it .

As long a "Conservation and Environment" are on the Authoritarians Code Word Watch list things won't change .

I

Boatman
Boatman

Changing the rates won't change the behavior at that level, which will of course have no bearing on conservation or the ultimate goal.  You have to take this on a per acre or sq ft basis, determine what usage meets your conservation goals, then charge 10-20 x rate for anything over that number.On a related note, it would be interesting to see how Hunt and Griggs feel about a tiered tax rate.

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