Town water meters debated | SteamboatToday.com

Town water meters debated

In 1987, the Oak Creek Town Board wrote an ordinance requiring installation of water meters in town, fulfilling a requirement to receive federal grants for infrastructure work. But the funds dried up, the ordinance was repealed in 2005, and meters never were installed.

The Town Board is taking another go-round at getting meters installed for Oak Creek’s water customers, a project of unknown cost poised to bring conservation and water rights issues to a head.

Oak Creek gets its municipal water supply from the namesake creek that runs through town and from Sheriff’s Reservoir in Rio Blanco County. Fears around the touchy issue of water rights center on what might happen if Oak Creek is not using all the water allocated to the town or if consumption goes down because meters end up encouraging conservation, Trustee Gerry Greenwood said.

“There’s locals that believe that, if we go with water meters, we will erode our rights to our water,” Greenwood said. “Some people think by putting in water meters, we’re only hurting ourselves.”

However, meters often are required for the town to be eligible for certain state and federal grant funds, and in today’s conservation-minded society, “the day is coming, whether we’re ready or not,” Greenwood said.

In addition to encouraging conservation of water resources, which Trustee David Fisher said is a value in itself, less water use would cut the town’s costs, a real consideration in Oak Creek’s tight budget.

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“We don’t have to produce fresh water if it’s not being wasted,” Fisher said. “Then, it’s not going down the pipe to the wastewater treatment plant.”

Eliminating the town’s flat rate structure for water customers would create incentives for conservation – and punish those who waste water with higher bills. It’s well-known in town that residents of some of Oak Creek’s older houses leave their taps running all winter to prevent their pipes from freezing, Greenwood said.

Fears about water rights are unwarranted, Fisher said, as future growth in town should offset any reduction in use that metering would bring about.

“As we go through our (Comprehensive Plan update), we’re looking at what is the size that the town envisions for itself,” Greenwood said. “If we look back to what our ultimate vision of the town, we need to know how much water we’ll need.”

If you go

What: Oak Creek Town Board water meters and utilities work session

When: 7 p.m. today

Where: Oak Creek Town Hall, 129 Nancy Crawford Blvd., Oak Creek

Utility hikes proposed

Oak Creek currently charges a flat rate for water service, a number poised to increase next year. Before making a firm decision on the new rates, the Town Board is examining whether such a water meter project could be accommodated in the 2009 budget.

The cost and implementation process for metering water use in Oak Creek has not been determined and will be up for discussion at tonight’s work session. The last time a Town Board took a serious look at such a project – in 2005 – installing meters was estimated to be a $523,000 multi-year project.

Proposed utility rate hikes for the town, including water rate increases, were tabled by the board at its Nov. 13 meeting until after tonight’s work session.

Residential customers would see their combined water-sewer bill increase about 50 percent, from $55 to $83 a month, if the proposed increases are approved. Trash bills would increase a total of $3 a month per household.

Increases in electric rates also have been recommended by a recent study by Nebraska Municipal Power Pool, an affiliate of Municipal Energy Association of Nebraska, the town’s electric supplier.