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Irrigation plan could soak wallets

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SPANISH FORK — Dave and Alyn Olson are lucky to be able to tap some water from Strawberry Lake for the acre they own near Canyon Road.

Keeping their garden green won't hit them in the pocketbook like the new pressurized irrigation will hit most folks in Spanish Fork.

Alyn Olson feels for the folks in town who for years have watered their yards with flood or surface irrigation. The pioneer style of watering that dates back a century and a half is on the way out as pressurized irrigation comes in.

"I feel bad for (those) people," she said this week.

Among them was a man who has watered his acre yard with flood irrigation for years.

"The average (annual) cost two years ago was $30," said the man, who wouldn't give his name. "Last year it went up to $80."

But when he stopped by the rate booth at a recent information meeting, he learned it will cost him about $900 annually to keep his back yard green under the proposed billing system. He said the city doesn't need the new system.

But Mayor Dale Barney said the new watering method is needed.

"There's no question they had a right good deal on their irrigation," he said.

Most of the town uses culinary water to soak lawns and gardens. That prompted the city to start the "gray water" system to save fresh water for indoor use.

A general revenue bond will pay to build the new multimillion-dollar system.

The City Council recently was told new costs would bring it to $18.2 million, but the council has agreed to spend up to $21 million.

City Manager Dave Oyler anticipates an interest rate lower than the present 6.5 percent as one way to reduce the costs. The city hasn't yet completed its bidding package, so the project isn't yet out to bid. Once the bids are in and a contractor selected, the council can set the water rates that will pay for construction of the outdoor irrigation system.

Early estimates show that residents' monthly water bills could double. Residents now pay an average of $22.70 per month on an annual basis for culinary water used inside and outside their homes, paying more in the summer and less in the winter.

When the pressurized irrigation system is completed, officials earlier said they expected to add an estimated $23 more per month for the first eight to 10 years. But Wednesday the average estimated pressurized irrigation water bill had climbed to $28.79 per month.

Added to their culinary water bill, residents can expect to pay more than twice as much each month for water than they're used to paying, Kent Griffith of Gilson Engineering told the Deseret News.

Not only would water users repay the revenue bond, they will also also offset reduced revenue from culinary water sales, officials say.

The "dirty water" system was started two years ago. Only about 1,000 of the city's 6,500 homes are on it, officials say.

So far only large water users, such as city parks, schools, the cemetery and some older neighborhoods, have pressurized irrigation available.

E-mail: rodger@desnews.com