Water users in the city are on pace to consume 10 percent less water since the stage I drought went into effect on July 1.
Although this month’s bills aren’t finalized yet, the city’s water department is noticing an effort from consumers across the board to reduce their consumption, said Lee Ledesma, the municipal government’s utilities operational manager.
The city’s parks and recreation department has reduced its consumption by a minimum of 10 percent, as have any other departments that have the potential for high water use, Ledesma said.
The water department also is seeing a decrease in water use by large consumers and by those who are conservative in their consumption, most likely because they already are environmentally conscience, Ledesma said.
On July 1, the water department began imposing a 50 percent and 75 percent increase on accounts that use more water than they’re allotted and fall into water rate tiers 3 and 4 respectively.
City officials estimate that if consumption doesn’t change, about 25 percent of residential accounts and 23 percent of commercial accounts will fall into those higher tiers.
But that likely won’t happen because a lot of the top water consumers are making efforts to reduce their bills, Ledesma said.
“Hopefully [the water rate surcharge] is seen as a positive thing and it sparks a certain level of caring in the community,” she said.
About 29 percent of the top 100 water consumers in Aspen have recently contacted the utility department requesting information on how to reduce their consumption, and four of the top five consumers have installed smart meters on their property so that they can monitor and control their use.
In May, the city notified the top 100 consumers of their usage and advised them to install a smart meter, which gives them and the utility an idea of how much water the account is using and when, Ledesma said.
Those who responded include two high-use residential buildings, one homeowner’s association account, and a company that owns multiple buildings, among others, Ledesma said.
The department also has seen an increase in calls from customers trying to get more information about their water bill, said David Hornbacher, director of utilities and environmental initiatives for the city.
Some have even called concerned about a neighbor’s water use or properties that are doing things like watering sidewalks, Ledesma said.
“It’s not so much tattling on neighbors,” she said. “It’s more just people being concerned for the community.”
The conservation efforts came after Aspen City Council declared a stage 1 drought on June 25, aiming to reduce water consumption by 10 percent, and some consumers will have to pay a higher price for the resource.
At the time, the city enacted an ordinance that allows the water department to impose surcharges of up to 175 and 200 percent for users who consume more water than they are allotted, and thus fall into tier 3 or tier 4 categories. However, the water department has chosen not to charge the full percentage, leaving room for a bump up in the event the city declares a stage II drought.
Accounts fall into one of four tiers. The two lower tiers are considered acceptable water use for the size of the account, while accounts that fall into tiers 3 and 4 are considered high water users.
Water rates are highly individualized and are generally determined by how many fixtures an account has, Ledesma said. The more fixtures a building has, the more water the account is allotted. That allows businesses like hotels to use a lot more water than a one-bedroom apartment, and it makes it more difficult for a large hotel to fall into a higher tier, she said.
Warren Klug, general manager of the Aspen Square who sits on the board of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association (ACRA), expressed his concerns in a recent meeting that the surcharge could be unfair to larger businesses like hotels who don’t have control over their customers’ use, especially this year with occupancy rates being up, he said.
“I was prepared to push the city on those issues,” Klug said.
But after he followed up with city officials, Klug realized that the city’s tier scheme allows for large hotels to use a lot water before they’re penalized.
Even though the Aspen Square is one of the larger water consumers in town, it doesn’t come close to using the amount of water that it would take to qualify for a surcharge, Klug said.
That is partly due to the conservation efforts it has undertaken, he said. Those include measures like reducing outdoor watering and placing notices in all the rooms informing customers of the drought and how to reduce their consumption.
About 58 percent of the top 100 water consumers last summer were commercial businesses, 37 percent were residential properties and 5 percent were city facilities like parks, Ledesma said. The city doesn’t disclose its customers’ identities because of privacy rights.
Five of the top users consumed over 1 million gallons of water in July of last year, with the largest user going through about 1.85 million gallons. July is typically the month with the highest water demand, and therefore has the highest bills of the year, Ledesma said
Still, even if water consumption is reduced to 10 percent, the city could move into a stage II drought in the upcoming months if the annual monsoon season doesn’t produce enough rainfall this month.
“I think we’re pretty much counting on having the same [weather] patterns as in 2002,” Ledesma said, referencing the last declared drought in the region. “If that doesn’t happen we’ll be in front of the City Council again pretty soon.”