TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Tucson Water customers will likely see a 7 to 8 percent rate hike starting in July and every year through 2022.
The Citizens Water Advisory Committee has finished work on a series of alternatives to be presented to the Tucson City Council late this month for possible approval in March.
While the four alternatives differ a bit, generally for the average homeowners, rates will increase between $2 and $3 a month for the next four years.
While the rate increase is not necessarily too high or punitive for the average homeowner, high intensity water users will see a bigger increase.
Daniel Smit, the general manager of Silverbell Nursery at 2730 North Silverbell said annual water rate hikes are a fact of life.
"It's something I have to lead into my prices as well," he said. "Water is factored into the price of my plants."
Still, the 2.3 acre nursery, with 5,000 plants to nurture, conserves water to hold prices down.
"It's a nursery, you've got to have water," Smit said. "So it is something I keep my eye on."
Most of his plants are low water use Arizona plants but some customers like the leafy California plants, some even grass.
"A 10X10 plot of grass will cost about $30 a month to water," he said. "So you have to plan for that."
He does, however, discourage customers from planting grass.
"But some people want some grass for the kids or the dog," he said.
But those attitudes are changing according to Tucson water.
"We're actually seeing some people make those behavioral changes because of price," said Timothy Thomure, Director of Tucson Water.
The price increases are not designed to punish users but to help Tucson Water pay for fixed costs, like infrastructure, insurance, wages and maintenance. The Water Department is a city enterprise fund which means it must pay its own way. It does not get help from the city general fund.
With the long term prices increases, it has led to some frustration among users that the more they conserve, the more they pay.
"That is a fair statement," said Thomure. "Even though we conserve a lot of water and our per person usage has gone down, our water rates go up."
But he also says a recent study shows without conservation, water rates would be about 12 percent higher than they are now.
The Arizona Department of Water Resources reported that without a change in weather patterns, the state could face the biggest water shortfall since 2002.
But Tucson Water says it has been planning for water shortages for years and there is no reason to panic even if water in Lake Mead, our principle source of water, comes up short.
"I don't see a time in the next decade where we would actually face a situation where we would have to put any restrictions in," said Thomure.
He credits Tucson water customers for their conservation efforts over the past decades for providing the needed buffer.
"It's always been about the voluntary nature of what Tucson residents do to use water wisely that we're not looking at doing anything," he said.
But he still admits rising water rates gets people's attention and will make them more water wise in the future.
"It does become an economic analysis for every family as water rates increase," he said. "Some people value their landscaping more than others."
It's those rate increases that have caused some high water users to reassess what they grow and desert landscaping looks more attractive all the time.
There are four tiers of water rate prices which are tied to usage and not surprisingly, the prices escalate pretty rapidly in the top tiers.
That's why, Thomure said, "about half the Tucson water customers are in the lowest tier."