Guest column: Marvin Easton: Setting new water rates

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By Marvin Easton, Naples

During the next several weeks Naples City Council will be discussing increasing water rates.

Premise: Utilizing reclaimed water for irrigation saves scarce potable water for all Naples residents and should be encouraged.

Setting water rates is not an art requiring an understanding of higher mathematics. It is based on the municipality’s public policy. There are nearly as many different rates as there are municipalities.

The first policy decision: Does the municipality want a rate to make money, break even or lose money? Why would you want to lose money? For many years that was exactly the Naples policy.

The city spent millions to process reclaimed water and then dumped it into Naples Bay. Previous councils decided to provide that reclaimed water, at just a few cents per acre, to the six Naples golf clubs and four clubs outside city limits, the benefit being to reduce the amount of processed reclaimed water dumped in the bay, plus saving potable water previously used for golf course irrigation.

As Naples developed, the potable water needs increased, as did the volume of reclaimed water, and thus the amount processed and dumped into the bay.

About eight years ago this increase resulted in a new public policy. City Council decided to expand the reclaimed irrigation system to Port Royal and Gordon Drive homes. Also, a policy change was made to no longer lose money on the water rate, and price it to break even. The rate established both paid the operating and capital costs to process and provide that irrigation water for those residential homes. The residential rate was $0.63/1,000 gallons. Currently 559 homeowners in Port Royal and along Gordon Drive have voluntarily connected to irrigation water, plus 26 more homes have applied. These homeowners are saving nearly 1.5 billion gallons of potable water a year for the City.

At the same time a rate was set for the golf clubs providing a 40 percent discount, or $0.39/1,000 gallons. This discounted golf club rate is subsidized by all Naples potable water users.

Again, circumstances have changed. Based on the Port Royal success, additional city development, and other Naples reclaimed irrigation opportunities, the water demand exceeded the supply. The city expanded the supply by piping water from the Golden Gate Canal, and drilled aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) wells to store excess reclaimed and canal water during the rainy season, to use during the dry season. This will increase the ability to expand reclaimed irrigation to other neighborhoods.

These new circumstances would indicate new public policy decisions need be considered by City Council.

1. Should the city now raise the reclaimed water price? Many believe the more residences, plus the 10 golf clubs, who are encouraged to connect to reclaimed water the better. The biggest beneficiaries are all the city potable water users and Naples Bay, by not dumping reclaimed water.

2. What neighborhoods should be piped for reclaimed water? All streets or just those where the potable water volume saved from the voluntary connection will pay for the pipe laying and installing the additional meters? If you lay thousands of dollars of pipe and few homes connect, and those homes save little potable water, is that the best use of city funds? Should the city first seek a commitment from those homeowners to connect before laying pipe? Some streets are obvious to use reclaimed water, such as Gulf Shore Boulevard North. Many others are less obvious.

3. What should the residential rate be to encourage voluntary connections? Will the rate differential between potable and reclaimed water be large enough that homeowners will voluntarily make the upfront investment for the re-piping, valves, and filters needed for each lot? Few homeowners will make that $1,000-$2,000 investment to change over to reclaimed, if it will cost them more than continuing with potable.

4. Should all Naples potable water users continue subsidizing the discount provided to the 10 golf clubs? Should there even be any discount, and if so, what should be the magnitude?

5. All water users outside city limits currently pay a 25 percent uplift for their city-provided potable water and sewer services. Should a similar 25 percent uplift be charged for reclaimed water to those golf clubs outside the city limits, who pay no property taxes to help fund the operation of the city?

6. Who on the city staff is responsible for obtaining the new reclaimed residential sign-ups?

Once City Council decides these public policies, the arithmetic is relatively easy.

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