July 14, 2023
New Water Rates up for Consideration
By Gregory T. Federspiel
As reported back in May, the Water Resources Protection Task Force recommends that the current rate structure for users of the Town’s drinking water be altered. The reason for changing the structure is to try to encourage less water use, especially by high-end users. Many high-end users consume large amounts of drinking water to irrigate lawns and outdoor plantings, a use that the Town seeks to discourage. The Select Board is holding a public hearing on the proposed restructuring of the water rates at their meeting on Monday, July 17th. Public comments will be taken as part of the hearing.
Manchester is fortunate to have a strong supply of drinking water but our supply is stressed during drought conditions when irrigation demand is highest. During last year’s drought, most of the community responded positively to requests to cut back on water use, ensuring that we did not deplete our water supply. Many communities impose outdoor water bans even in wet years given the tenuous water supplies they have. Indeed, there are examples where irrigating using drinking water is not allowed regardless of weather conditions and homeowners are actually paid to replace their lawns and other landscaping with more native plantings that are more suited to the local environment.
Our current rate structure consists of 6 different tiers representing increasing volumes of water use. Each succeeding tier has a slightly higher rate thus larger users pay a higher rate. The current differential ranges from $0.0049 to $0.0069 per gallon (compare this to what you pay for a gallon of bottled water!) This differential is too slight to be much of a deterrent to water usage.
Manchester residents on average use more water per capita than most other communities in the area and throughout the state. Residents use some 50% more water per capita than the neighboring town average. We are amongst the top 10 heaviest users amongst 287 Massachusetts towns and cities. (These numbers do not include any commercial users, which account for <5% of our metered usage of drinking water.)
The state’s target is a maximum of 65 gallons of water use per capita per day (GPCPD). Manchester residents are more than 20% above this target at an average of 78.5 GPCPD. However, there is a wide range within this average. The 50% of households with the lightest usage consume about 26 GPCPD while the other 50% of higher-usage households consume 126 GPCPD. Indeed, half our drinking water is consumed by only 17% of households. High irrigation use accounts for much of this.
The proposed restructuring calls for 4 tiers, merging our current Tiers 1 and 2 as well as Tiers 5 and 6. Tier 1 users are those that consume less than 14,000 gallons a quarter; Tier 2 users consume between 14 - 30,000 gallons a quarter; Tier 3, between 30 - 120,000 gallons a quarter and tier 4 users consume over 120,000 gallons a quarter. A phased approach to altering the rates is recommended. The new range would be from $0.005 to $0.020 at first with a target of getting to a range of $0.003 to $0.046 per gallon over the course of a few years.
Under the first phase, water bills would be reduced for 58% of households who are already low users of water. 39% of users would see on average a 10% increase in their water bill. 3% of users who consume large volumes of water would see a significant rise (about 40%) in their water bill. These statistics are based on average consumers in each of the tiers thus specific households may deviate from the average.
The table below summarizes the current and proposed water rates/tiers and the projected impacts on average households within each tier:
The Select Board will hold a pubic hearing on the proposed water rates at their meeting on Monday, July 17th. After taking public comments they plan to vote on the rates for the new fiscal year that has just begun.
- In July 2023, new rates will reduce annual water bills for 58% of households (“conservators”).
- July 2023 rates will increase annual bills by an average of 10% for another 39% of households.
- Only 3% of households will see their annual water bills rise significantly July 2023 rec’d rates.