Water rates aimed at keeping precious commodity

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SALINA, Kan. (AP) - Salina’s water rates designed to help decrease consumption of a precious commodity

City water customers who are unsure if Salina is serious about conservation need only to become profligate with the garden hose this summer to clear up any doubts.

Salina abandoned its declining rate structure, which rewarded high use with lower cost, in favor of charging more for excess consumption.

“It used to be, the more you used the less it cost you,” said Martha Tasker, director of utilities. “In 2008 we changed that. Now we have a water conservation rate. Many would give it a much fouler name.”

The level of usage above which the conservation rate kicks in depends on a household’s base consumption.

Here’s how it works:

The city records a household’s winter quarter consumption rate — the amount of water used in January through March. That amount might be anywhere from 5,000 gallons a month to 10,000 gallons, depending on the size of household and personal water use.

The customer then is allowed to use 120 percent more than that each month before breaching the conservation threshold. This applies only to users who consume at least 6,000 gallons a month. The city spots all customers 6,000 gallons, so those who may use, say, 1,000 gallons, won’t reach the excess fee limit until they go over 6,000 gallons, not 1,200 gallons.

However, a household that averages 10,000 gallons a month during the three-month winter quarter would be able to use 12,000 gallons a month without paying the higher rate.

“Any water you use over that you pay an excess use rate for,” Tasker said.

For that first 12,000 gallons, the city charges $4.20 per 1,000 gallons. That comes to $50.40 a month, plus meter fees and taxes. Each 1,000 gallons over that, however, soaks the user for $8.40. So if the user instead consumes 13,000 gallons, that extra 1,000 gallons adds $8.40 to the bill, or $58.80.

The change attempts to encourage customers to be water misers.

“It doesn’t make sense if the more you use the less it costs. You’re not going to be very careful with how much you use,” she said.

The city draws its water from groundwater and from the Smoky Hill River. Tasker said river water costs less to treat, once it silts out, because it’s naturally soft. The water from the 15 wells is hard and must undergo treatment by chemicals, the cost of which keeps rising.

In winter, the city goes through about 5 million gallons a day, a rate that easily doubles in summer.

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