Fairhope considers rate hike for high water use

By Guy Busby
Government Editor
melanie@gulfcoastmedia.com
Posted 9/28/22

FAIRHOPE — Residents who use more than 7,000 gallons of water a month could find their bills climbing under a rate change being considered by the Fairhope City Council.Mayor Sherry Sullivan …

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Fairhope considers rate hike for high water use

Posted

FAIRHOPE — Residents who use more than 7,000 gallons of water a month could find their bills climbing under a rate change being considered by the Fairhope City Council.

Mayor Sherry Sullivan said the change would require residents using more water to pay for the excess.

"We have talked for some time about looking at the water rates and irrigation and the charges for irrigation for people who have irrigation meters to set an ascending rate, so if you use a higher amount of water, then you get charged a little bit more," Sullivan said at a recent city council work session. "So, we did look at this and set that threshold at 7,000 gallons."

In June, the council declared a water emergency after use reached 9 million gallons a day. Use has gone down since then, but Sullivan said the new rates would encourage conservation.

"It's just a reminder for folks to conserve. I tell everybody that if we want the rain to start, we just put in the conservation ordinance, enact the conservation ordinance again because we've had rain every day since then," Sullivan said. "It's just an awareness for people to conserve and, again, we did look at consumption rates across our system. We feel like 7,000 gallons is fair and so that's why we established that number."

She said Fairhope's water rates are less than those of some other systems in Baldwin County.

Jason Langley, water and sewer superintendent, said irrigation seems to be the main source of excessive water use.

"The biggest impact on our water system is irrigation," Langley said. "Right now, we're averaging something around 6 million a day. We can produce almost 9 million in certain areas of the system. It depends on where it's at. Rock Creek is our largest customer, that whole area up there and that's also the largest area to irrigate, so that's our biggest burden on the system."
He said he, Sullivan and city treasurer Kim Creech developed a proposal that would put more of the cost on the highest users.

"Our opinion and I think it's shared with the mayor and Kim and staff is the higher water users pay the higher bracket," Langley said. "That what's putting the burden on the system and causing a lot of our upgrades necessary to get the water to these areas like Rock Creek. We're having to increase line sizes and we've done a lot of work up there."

Councilman Jack Burrell said the city has to have a water system with a capacity to meet expected demands. He said the rates would require the highest users to help pay for that demand.

"When you have high usage, you're having to pay for capacity because just like electricity, you may not use all that electricity one day, but when you get that superhot day and you hit your air conditioner, you still want your lights to come on and that's the capacity charges and the same thing is true for water as well," Burrell said. "You may use 7 million gallons a day, but that day we hit 10 million gallons a day, you want your water to run as well. I was thinking at that time, you're paying and so basically, it's a capacity charge."

Council President Jimmy Conyers said the charges would also help pay to improve the system as changes are needed.

"We also want to make sure in the long term that we're charging enough to cover the ongoing infrastructure upgrades that need to be made so that we're not having to be put in a situation to rob from Peter to pay Paul or borrow money or whatever," Conyers said. "The ongoing maintenance of the system needs to be built into the cost of the water."

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