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City should avoid special residential water rates

By: The Gazette editorial
June 25, 2013 Updated: June 25, 2013 at 1:20 pm
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We demand equality for residential water meters. No special treatment. No winners and losers. Just good old American equality.

Social engineering we have. Take the federal tax code, which tells adults how to live. For better or worse, it punishes renters and rewards those who buy homes. It rewards charitable donations, but only to groups deemed worthy by politically motivated IRS agents.

The last thing we need are special residential water rates based on lifestyle choices and circumstance.

After a two-year dry spell, Colorado Springs Utilities wisely enacted modest water restrictions for the summer. Each residence has the option of buying up to 14,952 gallons (1,999 cubic feet) each month at a reasonable rate. Exceed that amount and a much-less-enticing rate kicks in, thus encouraging conservation. For some, it is easy. For others, it is hard.

But let's view this with perspective. In some parts of the world, families struggle their entire lives to find drinkable water that won't make them ill. They would never think to sprinkle crystal clear water on the ground for the sake of green grass. So, drought or no drought, we are all quite fortunate in Colorado Springs.

The nearly 700,000 people who occupy this metropolitan area live in arid climate with nowhere near enough water for a city this size. Only pipelines and reservoirs, for which we are thankful, make today's lifestyles possible in this beautiful region.

When the Southern Delivery System comes online to transport water uphill to our community, we will have even more abundance and a stronger hedge against drought. Until then, we water lawns twice a week during sustained dry spells and pay a restrictive price-per-unit after crossing a threshold.

Council Members Joel Miller and Don Knight would like to consider easing restrictions for some ratepayers, while maintaining them for others. They want a special exemption for ratepayers with big yards (more than 3,000 square feet) because they have more grass to keep wet. This would be a special deal based on a lifestyle choice.

A special rate for stewards of big lawns would defeat the purpose of the graduated rates enacted by Colorado Springs Utilities, which is governed by City Council. The whole point of restrictive pricing is to encourage less residential use of water, for any purpose, until supply exceeds demand. It is to maintain our reservoirs by making certain we don't take more than Mother Nature and our city's water rights can replenish.

The high-volume rates don't burden only those with big lawns. They also impose hardship on large families. Perhaps, if we give a break to residents with big lawns, we should give one to parents who run multiple children through the shower each morning. After all, some might suggest children are more important than grass.

If that's not politically correct, we should cut a deal for big families if the children were adopted from an orphanage. Or, maybe we give breaks to households consisting at least five kids and one dependent elder. We could lift restrictions for Colorado natives who didn't ask for all this new population.

One can imagine countless good reasons to exempt a chosen few from progressive pricing, if we want to embark on a winners/losers game. Or, we can simply decide to save water one meter at a time - the only practical approach for our municipal utility. Large families can learn to take shorter and/or fewer showers to avoid a punitive rate. Pool owners can pay a hefty fee or leave the pool empty this year. Owners of big lawns may pay a high price or choose a lower-maintenance landscape.

City Council and Colorado Springs Utilities should avoid the messy business of choosing winners and losers with special pricing constructs. The potential for abuse, oversight and discrimination is simply too great. Make this about saving water and leave social engineering to the IRS.

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