The two-day-a-week landscape watering restrictions in Fort Worth’s drought plan will likely become a permanent way for the city to conserve water, even as residents are expected to pay more for the water they use.
The City Council is scheduled to vote on the change April 1. But recognizing the double whammy the city may be imposing on homeowners and businesses, council members said Tuesday that the city must be proactive in explaining the higher rates and do all it can to fix leaks in the water system.
“If we are going to do this, if we are going to be serious about conservation and ask our citizens to tighten their belt, we need to do it ourselves. We need to make sure we are fixing our infrastructure,” Councilman Jungus Jordan said. “I think conservation is something we all need to take seriously.”
Councilman Danny Scarth said the message to send to residents is that rates are rising but will go up more slowly because of conservation.
“We have to be really honest with our citizens. We have got to make sure they understand — your rate is going up. I don’t care what you do, or what we do, or how much we save — your rate is going up,” Scarth said.
Without an increase in sources, conservation will be the best long-term option for the city as the demand for water increases, Kara Shuror, assistant director of the city water department, said at Tuesday’s pre-council meeting.
Conservation will delay some expensive water plant and expansion projects and would also delay the need for a costly new water source, she said.
A survey conducted in March 2013 by the Tarrant Regional Water District, the city’s raw water supplier, found that 69 percent of residents citywide supported the two-day-a-week watering restrictions and 8 percent were undecided.
Compliance for the law would focus on education, Shuror said, and offer a “friendly reminder” first, followed by a notice of violation and then locking the irrigation system, plus administrative fees.
Rates expected to rise
Despite conservation, water rates are expected to go up in the coming years and upcoming budgets, Shuror said, because conservation efforts do affect rates as the city sells less water, and because the cost of raw water continues to increase.
About 80 percent of the water department’s costs are out of the department’s control — personnel and raw water costs — and approximately 20 percent are variable — such as electricity and chemicals for water treatment, city officials say.
Revenues are the exact opposite.
In fiscal 2013, 83 percent of overall revenue was based on the amount of water used and 17 percent was based on fixed fees, depending on the size of the meter. Residential customers typically use less water and have smaller meters, whereas commercial users need more capacity.
To deal with that uncertainty, the city began a five-year plan to shift more revenue to the fixed-base fee so they are less reliant on the volatile nature of consumption.
In fiscal 2014, 19 percent of water revenue is fixed, and that number will rise to 25 percent by fiscal 2018 as part of the five-year plan.
Water rates also go up in stages as residents use more water. Though the city raised water rates in 2014, those using the least water did not see an increase.
“That is the reality — do you want your kids and your grandkids to have water?” Scarth said at the meeting.