Views differ on need for water metersWater meters could be installed as soon as this summer for residents in Two Harbors to help conserve water.
By: News-Chronicle, Lake County News Chronicle
Water meters could be installed as soon as this summer for residents in Two Harbors to help conserve water.
The city council is in the midst of reading an ordinance regarding the meters, which are already in stock. Residents would pick up the meters and install them themselves or have a plumber do it. They would then be inspected for compliance. All installation costs would be paid by residents.
But at least one city council member is questioning whether the city needs the meters at all and is worried residents will end up footing a larger bill for water in the future.
Other city leaders say they are following the rules of a loan the city received for a new water tower expected to be fully online in the next few months.
Two Harbors was awarded $3 million from the Minnesota Public Facilities Authority for improvements to its water infrastructure for the water tower. The funding consists of a $2.4 million loan at 2.5 percent interest over 20 years and $596,874 in principal forgiveness. The loan saves the city $683,399 compared with market-rate financing.
Council member Steve Detlefsen said the water meters fit into the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources new water conservation rules that need to be implemented by 2013.
Joe Richter, a hydrologist for the DNR, said the law has exemptions for cities that don’t use meters. He said if a city were in the process of completing a water meter project, it would have to complete the installation and comply with law.
Council member Chris Swanson said the water meters the city has in storage were delivered by mistake a year ago and he asked then that the city return them. He says the money received by the city for water improvements does not require the implementation of meters.
“The question is why do we need meters?” Swanson said. He said nothing in state law requires the change. And he bristles that a city with nearly $2.5 million in its water fund will require residents to pay for installations.
The city of Silver Bay also uses flat rates for residents but recently changed its fee structure to account for larger commercial uses. It doesn’t plan to install meters.
According to the DNR: “A public water supplier without the proper measuring equipment to track the amount of water used by its users, as of the effective date of this act, is exempt from this subdivision and the conservation rate structure requirement under subdivision 3.”
The law does mention compliance when applying for a new “public water supply” but allows the exemption if the city doesn’t use meters. If the city were following state law, it would have had to install water conservation measures well before the new water supply was approved.
Richter said water meters provide for fairer fees and would lead to more water conservation.
Swanson said the city already does a good job with overall water use.
The new law requires cities serving more than 1,000 people to adopt a water rate structure that encourages conservation. Non-conservation examples mentioned in the law include the flat rates now used in Two Harbors. It said it provides no incentive to conserve water.
By reducing water use, the city may not need to build a larger sewer plant. Detlefsen said metering will likely lead to less water being used, meaning the cost to process water will be less and charges will stabilize.
Swanson said changing the rules will raise rates for people in a time of economic uncertainty. “People are struggling,” he said, “and this is going to cost people money they don’t have.”
Once any ordinance is passed, residents would have a year to abide by it. The ordinance, in its current form, lists no state statutes requiring the meters.