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Proposed Waukesha Water Rates Encourage Conservation

A possible precedent for water-strapped communities

May. 20, 2009
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City of Waukesha residents may have a new incentive to conserve water: higher rates for heavy water usage.

The Waukesha Water Utility and the environmental group Clean Wisconsin have negotiated new residential water rates, which must be approved by the state Public Service Commission (PSC).

The utility had been working with the PSC on a new rate structure to cover expenses related to the area’s radium contamination. But Clean Wisconsin intervened in the case and argued for higher rates for the city’s heaviest water users to set a precedent for other communities that may seek Lake Michigan water. Under the new Great Lakes Water Compact rules, communities outside of the Great Lakes Basin must show that they have a strong conservation program in place before applying for a water diversion.

“I believe Clean Wisconsin is right,” said Dan Duchniak, general manager of the Waukesha Water Utility. “We are looking at potentially applying for Great Lakes water and they want to make sure that we are being as aggressive as we can in terms of conservation so that our request reflects that.”

Melissa Malott, Clean Wisconsin’s water program director, said higher rates for heavy users would strengthen any application for Great Lakes water. “And it would set a high bar for any other entities that want to apply for a water diversion,” Malott said.


Rate Hikes for Water Hogs

Under the revised rate proposal, residential users are broken into three tiers, with almost a 30% rate jump between the tiers. Malott said that 60% of Waukesha’s water users will pay less than they would have if the utility’s original rate request had been approved. The top users will see a hike in their water rates.

“We thought that because the radium contamination was caused essentially by water over-usage, the costs should be allocated to those who caused the problem,” Malott said.

Under the revised agreement, singlefamily residences that use less than 10,000 gallons of water per quarter would pay $2.05 per thousand gallons; residences that use up to 30,000 gallons per quarter would pay $2.65 per thousand gallons, and those who use more than 30,000 gallons per quarter would pay $3.40 per thousand gallons. Duplexes and triplexes have a different rate structure than single-family homes.

Duchniak said that the new rates will “ab solutely” encourage conservation because many residents are in the middle tier but could easily reduce their water consumption and pay the lowest rate. Duchniak suggested that residents water their lawns only when necessary and fix leaky plumbing to save water.

Duchniak said that the utility and Clean Wisconsin had always enjoyed a good working relationship, but he didn’t think that the organization had to intervene in the case to bring about the new rate structure. He said the utility would have adopted the revised rate structure. “It’s hard for us to understand why they felt they had to take that step [and intervene],” Duchniak said.

He said the intervention led to a onemonth delay in the case, which has cost the utility about $100,000 in revenue. Clean Wisconsin is also asking the utility to pay up to $20,000 for its legal expenses, which the utility opposes. “I don’t think that this is fair to our ratepayers,” Duchniak said.

Malott said she views her organization as participating in the case, not intervening. “We view this as getting involved so that we could move a very strong water conservation rate structure forward,” Malott said. “We thought that’s what Waukesha wanted.”

Comment on this article at ExpressMilwaukee.com.


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