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Water bills soar in Spanish Fork

Increased rates are to pay off irrigation system

SHARE Water bills soar in Spanish Fork

SPANISH FORK — Folks here are mad as wet hens at the city's skyrocketing prices for water.

Spanish Fork residents, who are still reeling from the initial sticker shock of summer water bills, this week received payment demands for August's usage.

After seeing the water bills with the much-higher charges, many residents slashed the number of times lawns and gardens were sprinkled with water. Still, a good number already owed significant amounts from huge July water bills.

The double whammy has started to change watering habits, said Kent Clark, the city recorder.

"We can tell by the drawdown on the reservoir," said Clark.

Before the bills hit, the water level in the new 5-acre reservoir in the east-bench foothills fluctuated rapidly. Now, the water level isn't moving nearly as much, Clark said.

New water rates were formulated to pay off the city's freshly minted $16.25 million irrigation system. The base rate for an average 9,000-square-foot yard is $16 per month for outdoor water plus a usage fee based on gallons used.

Early estimates showed that the new system would cost households less than $30 a month on average to water their lawns and gardens. Thus far, the average monthly bill for irrigation water alone has hovered around the $75 level, Clark said.

That's in addition to charges for indoor water of about $30 a month for many households.

Water bills could have been higher, but city officials recently agreed to forego charging penalty rates for residents using too much irrigation water after finding that some 40 percent of the town's 6,700 households were using excessive amounts.

Penalty rates will begin next year after homeowners get used to the higher rates and can adjust their irrigation systems, officials said.

In April and May, the first two months of the new system, residents were charged only a base rate. Usage charges were added in June.

Before the city shut down its flood irrigation system that dated back at least a century, users paid about $30 a season, depending on how much they used. But city chiefs said the old system wasted water.

Many who live in the city have "voiced their concerns" when they come in to pay their water bills, Clark said. Dozens wrote opinions — both pro and con — on the city's Web site, www.spanishfork.org.

In May, the city hired extra staff to field calls about the new pressurized-irrigation system.

"We just want people to understand," said Assistant City Manager Mary-Clare Maslyn.

For more than two years city leaders have tried to spread the message that water costs would rise when the pressurized irrigation system became operational.

Residents were notified in utility bills, public hearings and city meetings.

"We have provided a lot of education over the last two years," she said.

Still, many residents didn't catch on until they got their bills.

Beckie Millet did. "We knew it was coming," she said. "(So) we didn't water our grass a whole lot."

Even with the vigilance, her water bill increased.

"I don't like it," she said, "but there's not a whole lot I can do about it. Grin and bear it, I guess."

Gerald Bohnet thought the $56 he paid to water his large garden in July was reasonable. Last summer most residents watered their yards with culinary water.

The City Council on Tuesday authorized the expenditure of $13,770 for 208 new water meters and related meter installation items. The meters were broken, many by residents, City Engineer Richard Heap said. The increase brings the total meter installation to about $286,350.

Spanish Fork is the only Utah city that meters its secondary system, officials say.

A splash of reality

Spanish Fork plans to pay for the city's new $16.25 million irrigation system with money earned through water-rate hikes. But folks are feeling sticker shock as they receive bills.

So how much are residents expected to pay for cold, clean water?

The base rate for an average 9,000-square-foot yard is $16 per month for outdoor water, plus a usage fee based on gallons used.

City officials estimated the new system would work well enough to provide water to households for less than $30 a month on average to water lawns and gardens.

Those projected figures have evaporated.

The average monthly bill for irrigation water alone has hovered around $75.

E-MAIL: rodger@desnews.com