Water in West Jordan: Rates, use and sustainabilityAug 20, 2019 12:07PM ● By Erin Dixon
Water bills were higher this summer due to two rate increases, both to support infrastructure needs and bond payments. (Pixabay)
By Erin Dixon | [email protected]
Was your water bill higher than ever this summer?
In 2018 West Jordan City Council approved two rate increases: 10% activated in the fall, 33% in February this year.
“[The 10% rate increase last October] was in direct response to our obligations to hold the bond,” Finance Director Danyce Steck said. “In June 2018, it looks like that debt service coverage ratio went below the threshold and the city responded by immediately increasing rates. They were in the process of doing a study, but it was one of those critical issues that had a short time response.”
The study was performed by a utility consulting firm, Raftelis. The purpose of the study was to assist city leaders in the development of a financial plan to sustain long-term financial health of the water utilities. This plan would include the current repair and update needs of the systems.
“[T]he study came back with a recommended rate increase of 33%, so they did the rest of it at that point in time,” Steck said. “Revenue was not sufficient to support the infrastructure demands of the current system. We had a very long list that continued to be pushed down further and further on the list of projects. This infrastructure can be seen as critical during an emergency.”
Justin Stoker, public works deputy director, explained that the department was aware of the need for funding but had been unable to get what they needed.
“Water rate increases have been discussed for many years,” Stoker said. “At one time several years ago, Steve Glain, our financial analyst, was making presentations on it over and over again. I think at one point he had made 15 presentations in a 12-month period.”
For several years, the council did not approve any increase in rates.
“The city did not raise water rates at all between 2014 through 2017 despite cost increases of about 5% per year,” Stoker said.
Future water costs
The most recent increases put the water fund in a better place, but in the near future, the costs and needs continue to grow.
“I estimated that we’d need a 2% per year, but that can’t be a promise,” Steck said, “I don’t know what’s going to happen to the cost of water or the cost of construction, but I don’t think it’s going to be an aggressive need. I think it’s going to be something that we’re going to look at as we build five-year plans, which is something the city really hasn’t done as a whole.”
In 2015, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert issued a resolution calling all governing bodies to curtail their watering and to improve the distribution of water.
“Every Utah citizen must adopt long-term water conservation practices not limited to periods of drought,” Herbert said.
As the population in Utah steadily increases, the need for water will increase. Division of Water Resources Conservation Program projects that by 2060 Utah’s population will be nearly 6 million, double the population in 2010.
“Utah uses the most water per capita in the U.S., but we receive the second-lowest annual rainfall. Utah consumes 210 gallons of water per person per day. As our state’s population increases, one way to help meet future demand is by conservation,” according to the Division of Water Resources Conservation Program website.
The West Jordan Sustainability Committee researches the latest data and ideas for water conservation. Rob Bennett, committee member, suggested a change to the council in July.
“Just one example of something that is in West Jordan city code currently—we have a requirement in West Jordan that there has to be a minimum of 40% of all of your yard that needs to be covered with grass,” Bennett said. “That is not helpful for water conservation. It would be very nice to be able to modify that in some beneficial way that would allow for local-scaping or xeriscaping for residents to be able to use other resources other than just turf which is where the majority of our useable water is going currently.”