Water, water everywhere

Even though it can, the TMWA board has not moved everyone to meters

Watering is governed by legal provisions that must be used better than we use our water.

Watering is governed by legal provisions that must be used better than we use our water.

First, let’s talk numbers. The Truckee Meadows Water Authority has 90,000 customers. Of those, 81,000 are residential. Of all those residential customers, all but 800 have water meters installed. Approximately 72,600 of those residents pay for the water they use on a graduated scale based on the amount they use. Eight hundred can’t because they don’t have meters.

So what gives with the 7,600 homes that pay the same amount for water each month, no matter how much they use?

People who’ve been around town for a while will recall that the 1996 Conservation Agreement put in place the two-day-per-week watering schedule. Under the agreement, water meters were added to residences. New homes automatically went on the meters, when existing homes sold, the meters were turned on. For the rest of homes, going to the metering was voluntary until 90 percent of customers were metered. That’s when the switch was supposed to flip, and everyone was going to pay for the water they used.

That 90 percent threshold was reached some time ago, but the switch never flipped. Since the 1996 Conservation Agreement was made between Sierra Pacific and the Public Utilities Commission, TMWA is not obligated to follow the plan, although they’ve generally stuck to its provisions, including the restricted watering schedule. Recently, the utility changed the restricted water schedule, also triggered by the 90 percent-metered mark.

But there are more factors to switch flippage than a flick of the finger. For one, says TMWA customer relations director Kim Mazeres, the flat rates are based on how much water the flat-raters are using as a group. For another, the board of directors (made up of three Reno City Councilmembers, two from the Sparks Council and two Washoe County Commissioners) simply hasn’t decided to turn on the meters.

“The deal that is in statute is that we could, we can, we are authorized to, our board can make the decision to—and actually at the time it was put in statute it was the Public Utilities Commission and Sierra Pacific—that could then say, ‘Everybody’s going to go to the metered rate once 90 percent of those customers had meters installed,’” Mazeres said.

“What’s the holdup?” she asked. “It’s the board’s decision. Two or three years ago, when they started discussing this in earnest, they heard from our flat rate customers: ‘Hey, leave us alone, let us go with the flat rate.’”

The board, she said, promised the flat-rate customers they would not be moved to metered water use any earlier than June of this year.

But it’s not a simple question of equity between flat-rate and metered users. The flat-rate “class” gets its rates set as a group. So while some of those 7,600 customers would save money by paying by the gallon, they’re essentially subsidizing the ones who use more water than they pay for. Still, even though somebody’s paying for some customers’ waste, there are environmental concerns related to conservation of a community resource.

It’s unknown whether this system will go on forever.