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S.L. GOES WITH THE FLOW, RAISES COST OF WATER USED IN SUMMER

The Salt Lake City Council restructured water rates Tuesday with only a trickle of interest from water users - and those residents said the city wasn't going far enough in its efforts to encourage conservation.

Beginning July 1, users will pay more for water during summer months. The higher rate will kick in for water used above the base level of 500 cubic feet or 3,740 gallons per month.Residents currently pay 48 cents for every 100 cubic feet of water they use above the base level. That rate will rise to 59 cents (88 cents for noncity residents) during June, July, August and September. Water users will be charged less during the rest of the year - 38 cents per 100 cubic feet (57 cents for noncity residents).

City officials hope the higher summer rates spur people to use less water, delaying the need for $100 million in infrastructure improvements to meet peak demand pressure.

"We won't know until we start it if this is going to work," said Councilman Tom Godfrey.

While Salt Lake City's population is below historically high numbers, the city is serving a growing number of users in the unincorporated county, said LeRoy Hooton, water director. The city also is serving more industrial and commercial water users.

In 1960, the city had 60,346 connections to its system. In 1994, the city had 86,665 connections, Hooton said. Nearly all that growth came from adding users in the unincorporated county.

"We have added to the city's system a city equal in size to West Valley City since 1960," Hooton said.

But the fluctuating rates may not make enough difference in water users' bills to get any attention.

Water users with little draw on the system will end up saving about 36 cents a year, according to a council analysis. The average user will pay about $7 more annually, the high user about $18 and the very high user $27.

Hooton said the new structure is only a "starting point" in getting people to think more consciously about how they use water.

But some residents said the city isn't going far enough.

Harrison Smith told the council the city isn't giving low water users an adequate break on rates and ought to pour more resources into educating people that "we live in a desert, and there's a limited amount of water."

Allen Sanderson made a similar point. By setting the base level at 500 cubic feet, the city penalizes people who use less than that amount but have to pay anyway, he said.

The savings that low-volume users will realize under the new structure is only "a postage stamp," Sanderson said.

"It's (the new rates) not enough of a monetary incentive for people to drop rates down at all," Sanderson said.

Councilman Stuart Reid, who voted against the new structure, voiced similar concerns after the meeting. Reid said low income people who use little water end up subsidizing other users.

The system is patently unfair, Reid said. He wanted the council to adopt a pay-for-what-you-use system, which would result in all but the highest volume users paying less.

Reid tried unsuccessfully to get the council to back measures to create a credit program for residents who are required to water city-owned parking strips adjacent to their properties. There are many such strips in the central and west areas of the city, Reid said.