Andover approves higher water rates, new tiered system for 2013

Andover’s highest water users will see sizable quarterly bill increases if they do not curb their water usage.

The Andover City Council Tuesday evening, Dec. 18 approved the city’s 2013 fee schedule. Included in that is the new water rates.

Everybody will see an increase starting in the first quarter of 2013, but the really big price hikes would be imposed on those who use the most water.

City Engineer and Public Works Director David Berkowitz said the city designs its water system based on how much is used during the peak periods.

The summer is when the most is used because residents are watering their lawns and landscaping. The third quarter months of July through September have the highest average use historically. The average amount of water Andover sold between July and September 2011 was 55,548 gallons per user, Berkowitz told the council during a June 27 council workshop when this issue first came up for discussion.

“When you have the heavy hitters I’ll call them pounding the water when we need it, they push our system to the point where we need more storage, we need bigger lines, we need more wells and that’s what we base all our design off of,” Berkowitz said.

Besides increasing the minimum monthly and quarterly base rates and the amount charged per 1,000 gallons, Andover decreased the number of water usage tiers from seven to four to simplify the billing process and thus reduce city costs.

Under the old water tier system, if somebody used 55,000 gallons of water in one quarter, they would pay the base rate of $11.89 and then $2.07 per 1,000 gallons. Under the new payment structure, the base quarterly charge would be $12.19 and the charge per 1,000 gallons would be $2.43, which is a 36 cent increase per 1,000 gallons.

On the other hand, somebody who uses 99,001 gallons or more water during one three-month period would pay the base rate plus $3.11 per 1,000 gallons instead of $2.47 or $2.95 per 1,000 gallons depending on how high their usage is. The $2.95 amount was for those who used 201,001 gallons and above.

Residents’ water usage is much lower outside the months of July, August and September. The average residential property used 39,931 gallons of water between April and June 2011, 16,880 gallons between October and December 2011 and 14,746 gallons between January and March 2011.

What are some people using?

City Administrator Jim Dickinson told the council in June that the city needs to bring in enough revenue to pay for the water system that was built to meet peak demand, but there does need to be a balance by having water conservation.

Berkowitz told the council in June that homeowners associations are the biggest culprits for water over-use. The reason is they have sprinklers managed by electronic systems. Newer irrigation systems have gauges that can sense moisture and not activate if it is raining or had rained not long ago. Older systems just have timers that set the sprinklers off even when there is a downpour.

Brian Kraabel, the city’s water and sewer system supervisor, said that it has been state law since 2006 that new irrigation systems have rain sensor gauges, but the old systems are grandfathered in until the associations need to replace them.

One townhome association with 32 units pumped 3,383,000 gallons of water onto its lawns from July through September of 2011, according to city information. This is an average of 105,719 gallons per unit in one billing quarter just for irrigation. Then there was the average of 10,000 gallons per quarter used inside each unit.

A much larger townhome association with 96 units obviously utilized more water (5,830,000 gallons) in this same quarter, but a much lower average gallons per unit of 60,729.

There are single-family homeowners who use exorbitant amounts of water as well. In one neighborhood, a property owner used 239,000 gallons of water in one quarter, while their immediate neighbor only used 83,000 gallons, the council learned.

About 9.3 percent of residential properties used 100,000 gallons or more water between July and September 2011, but this small percentage of the population accounted for 25.6 percent of the water used in all of Andover’s city water system.

The average city water user during the third quarter of last year only used 55,548 gallons, according to city data.

Councilmembers Sheri Bukkila and Julie Trude asked if the city could contact these high water users to see if they can get them to reduce their water usage.

Dickinson said when you start pointing out to people that they use much more water than their neighbors, they may take offense to that. Berkowitz said they usually hear from people when they get a high water bill in the mail.

Eric Hagen is at [email protected]