After 10 years with no increases, Cedar City proposing to raise water rates

Water flows from a tap at a nursery in Cedar City, Utah, Jan. 11, 2022 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

CEDAR CITY — Cedar City is proposing a water rate increase for both residential and nonresidential customers.

Water flows from a watering device at a nursery in Cedar City, Utah, Jan. 11, 2022 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

If approved by the Cedar City Council, it would mark the first time the city’s water rates have increased in a decade, with the last rate hike happening back in 2012. The new rates are scheduled to go into effect in July, pending council approval.

According to the proposal, the increases are scheduled to be implemented in five annual phases between July 1, 2022, and July 1, 2026. The rates are structured such that the per-gallon cost goes up the more water a customer uses.

“This is intended to help people be conservative,” Mayor Garth Green told Cedar City News. “If they are being conservative, they get rewarded with low water bills. And if they’re not conservative, they’re going to find that they’re going to pay a little more.”

For example, a single-family residence that uses 8,000 gallons of water in a month currently pays $24.20 for that much water. Under the proposed 2022 increase taking effect this July, that same customer would pay $25.00, an increase of just 3.3%.

In a more typical example, a single-family residential customer that uses 15,000 gallons in a given month would see their bill go up from $31.20 to $35.50, a 13.8% increase. For 25,000 gallons, the monthly bill jumps from $51.20 to $60.50, an increase of about 18.2%.

For multifamily residential customers, the nominal rate amounts are the same, although the cutoffs for the tiers are smaller. Whereas the tiers for single-family dwellings have ranges of 0-8,000 gallons, 8,001-20,000 gallons, 20,001-35,000 gallons and over 35,000, the multifamily user tiers are marked by increments of 5,000 gallons, with the highest tier being 15,001 gallons and above.

Cacti for sale at a nursery in Cedar City, Utah, Jan. 11, 2022 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

For nonresidential customers, which includes commercial, industrial and institutional users, there is no proposed rate increase for those who use 20,000 gallons or less in a month. The bill for exactly 20,000 gallons would stay at $37 ($17 base fee plus $1 for every thousand gallons). That holds true for each of the five years covered by the proposed adjustments (2022-26).

However, if a business or institution uses 50,000 gallons of water in a month, the bill go up from $67 to $79, an increase of nearly 18%. By July 2026, that same user would be paying $127.60 for 50,000 gallons, a jump of more than 90% from the current rate.

“Is it incentivized towards the low user?” Green said. “Yes, it is. And that’s just good management.”

Green said there are two main reasons behind the proposed increases, the first being to cover operational and maintenance costs. 

“The expense of operating our water system keeps going up,” he said.

The other reason, Green said, is to generate money that’s expected to be needed for the purchase of water rights.

Cedar City Mayor Garth Green listens during a Cedar City Council meeting, Cedar City, Utah, Jan. 5, 2022 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

Green referred to the state of Utah’s new groundwater management plan, which is scheduled to “retire” or phase out any water rights newer than July 25, 1934, in multiple stages, between 2035 and 2080, which means that Cedar City will lose 90% of its water over the next 50 years, Green said.

“We have to acquire old water, very old water, and it’s very expensive,” he said. “That water acquisition surcharge is to be put into a special fund, totally separate from operations of the water department, totally separate from the operations of the city.”

Green said that based on his own estimates, the acquisition fund could generate approximately $2.5 million a year, which could be used to purchase 250 acre feet of water at the going rate of $10,000 per acre foot.

“That won’t be enough, but it’s a good start,” he said. “We have to get started. We can’t ignore the problem. We need to acquire some water.”

Sprinklers water an alfalfa field, Cedar City, Utah, Sept. 1, 2021 | File photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

Green said the Cedar City area’s water issues, which were a main focus of his election campaign last year, are likely to remain at the forefront for many years to come.

The overarching goal, he said, will be to stabilize Cedar Valley’s aquifer through conservation and finding other sources of usable water.

Most Cedar City customers should have already received information about the water rate proposal with their January utility bill. The relevant information, including tables showing the proposed rate increases in detail, can be found on the city’s website.

The Cedar City Council is scheduled to hold a public hearing regarding the water rate proposal during its work meeting on Feb. 2.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2022, all rights reserved.

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