by: Submitted, Donna Jordan

The Lake Oswego City Council will soon consider adopting a new water rate structure to encourage conservation and ensure water utility revenue needs are met. Since this council action will affect rates for all our water users, I would like to provide readers with some background as to why revenue needs will be increasing and how conservation may reduce your water costs.

Q. What's behind the increase in revenue requirements?

A. Portions of the city's water supply system need replacement. The city of Tigard needs a stable source of water supply. In August the city entered into an agreement with Tigard to jointly fund an expansion of the city's water supply system. Tigard agreed to fund a major portion of the city's replacement costs in exchange for expanding the system to also supply Tigard, helping both communities. By agreement, the cities must expand the system by July 2016. In order to be financially prepared, our rates will need to increase by about 15 percent annually for the next eight years. Without Tigard as a partner, rates would need to increase by over 21 percent annually.

Q. Does this implement the council goal to establish 'tiered' water pricing?

A. In August, council adopted a Water Management and Conservation Plan (WMCP). This state-required plan obligates us to achieve measurable reductions in water use before we can divert more water from the Clackamas River to serve our future needs. The WMCP outlines measures and programs the city will implement over the next five years and beyond, to better manage and reduce our water use. Conserving water now will help defer future additional supply expansions, reduce sewer utility bills, leave more water in the river for fish and reduce operating and maintenance costs, a benefit to ratepayers and the environment.

In October, council looked at four different rate options for each class of water customer, including single family. The council wanted options that were: 1) affordable, keeping prices reasonable for essential water use for cooking, cleaning and drinking, 2) sufficient to cover capital and operating costs and 3) effective at encouraging conservation particularly among ratepayers who use large amounts of water.

Q. How much will my rates increase?

A. All water users' rates will increase. How much they go up will depend on how much water you use. Your water bill is divided into two parts: a 'fixed' charge and 'variable' charge. The fixed charge covers a portion of the city's costs for meter reading, repair, billing and administration. As the name implies, the fixed charge doesn't vary whether you use 1 or 1,000 gallons of water. The variable charge covers the remaining costs of operating and maintaining the water system. For each 'unit' of water you use (1 unit 748 gallons), you currently pay $0.88. A 2007 survey shows that Lake Oswego's variable charge is the lowest in the region.

As an example, my most recent water bill (prorated monthly) is $53.36, based on the 30 units of water that my family uses. According to the city's Utility Billing Department, the average user consumes about 20 units of water. If the new rates are adopted, beginning July 1, 2009, I'll pay $60.26. By reducing my use to match the average user, my bill would actually drop to $46.76, a savings of $6.60 from today. To do that, however, I'll need to do a better job conserving water. During recent routine landscape maintenance, I found and repaired a leak in my irrigation system. Now, I'll be visiting for more indoor and outdoor tips on how to save water. I'll also be calling the city's Water Conservation Specialist, Kevin McCaleb, for a free water audit.

Please come to a Conservation Water Rate Open House on Monday, Nov. 10, at the West End Building in the Santiam Room, to learn more about proposed rates.

Donna Jordan is a Lake Oswego City Council member.

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