Ute Water customers to pay more for 4th year in a row — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

Rates for Ute Water customers are headed higher for the fourth year in a row.

The water conservancy district’s board of directors announced Tuesday that starting Jan. 1 the minimum charge for the first 3,000 gallons of water used in a month will go from $20 to $22, while residential tap fees will increase 3 percent, from $6,800 per tap to $7,000.

That’s double the rate increases the district imposed this year. In 2012, the district’s rate was $15 for the first 3,000 gallons.

The increase is needed to replenish reserve funds the district used when it bought water in Ruedi Reservoir near Basalt from the Bureau of Land Management, which the district did in 2013, said Joe Burtard, external affairs manager for the district. The additional money from the latest increase is for the district’s next major project, expanding Monument Reservoir on Grand Mesa, he said.

“Our board has been really aggressive and proactive in establishing a reserve fund for projects like Ruedi,” he said. “What we don’t want to do is, go into the construction of Monument Reservoir and take out loans and bonds to pay for that because that increases the construction costs, and that cost is then passed on to our consumers.”

Burtard said the increase is expected to generate about $800,000 a year toward that project, he said.

He said the increases stem from a Raw Water Study the district did back in 2011, which identified the need for more water storage, as much as 21,400 acre-feet, to handle the anticipated population growth in the Grand Valley.

That population is expected to increase the district’s customers to about 197,000 residents by 2045, more than double the 80,000 people it serves now.

To address that potential demand, the district has been working in recent years to expand its water supplies, including purchasing more acre-feet at Ruedi and expanding Monument Reservoir.

The Monument project, which is expected to cost about $21 million, would provide another 4,700 acre-feet of water. The district is nearing the end of getting a permit for the project, Burtard said.

This summer, the district also spent about $450,000 on a hydropower electric project, which is designed to power its water-treatment plant and help it save operating costs in the long term.

The district also is expanding pipelines on Orchard Mesa and in the Redlands areas, expanding its water pumping capabilities and upgrading or replacing some of its vehicles, he said.

It has about $6 million budgeted for capital projects for next year. “Water providers are having to become really creative in thinking outside of the box in how they’re going to develop additional water resources,” Burtard said. “One of ours was the purchase of Ruedi Reservoir, which I think anyone can say that’s probably the most significant that Ute Water’s ever made in its history.”

He said the district’s board of directors prefers to build its cash reserves to pay for large projects rather than go into debt or sell bonds for such projects.

Burtard said the board opted for an increase in its 3,000-gallon minimum rather than implement a different tiered payment structure because it doesn’t want to penalize people who conserve water by staying under that threshold.

The board also didn’t like the idea of increasing tap fees because of fears it might hinder growth, but felt it was better to put a greater burden on future development rather than existing customers, he said.

Grand Junction back in the day with the Grand Mesa in background
Grand Junction back in the day with the Grand Mesa in background

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