Water Rates Increase

Bozeman city commissioners agreed to increase water fees Monday with hopes it will reduce waste.

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To prepare for future hot summers and drought, the city of Bozeman increased water fees with hopes it will reduce waste.

Bozeman commissioners approved the changes Monday. Average city customers will see a roughly $1.14 increase in their monthly water bills by Sept. 15. Individual bills will depend on how much water each home uses.

The more water people use, the higher their bill, which will change with the seasons.

“Our lower water users will actually see a decrease in their monthly bill,” finance director Kristin Donald told commissioners Monday.

The commission raised the ceiling for the city’s top water prices by adding a fourth tier to the city’s rates. The tiers are based on cubic feet, starting at $2.40 for every 600 cubic feet used and up to $6.81 for 3,500 cubic feet or more.

Donald said the goal is people avoid that highest level of use.

Deputy Mayor Chris Mehl said the city has conservation education programs and incentives to help people lower water use. He said the new fee is another way to roll back use for a town with a finite water supply.

“The goal of the city is to have a water conservation plan that is a leader, if not the best but one of the best in the mountain region,” Mehl said.

A portion of what the city collects in water bills — nearly $188,000 — will go toward a drought fund for the city.

The city adopted its drought management plan in 2017, which gave the city a way to declare a drought and impose restrictions such as limiting water use for things like lawns.

Monday’s vote also set up a range of fees that will go in place if officials declare a drought to further rein in water use. The higher the drought stage, the higher price for water, ranging from a 10% fee increase to 200%.

Commissioner Jeff Krauss voted against the fees. He said the drought plan accepts the city’s failure to have its water supply keep up with its population and punishing people in town with higher fees.

“We are planning to add more units and as long as we continue to do that and bow to the inevitability of that, then I believe that we should also be bowing to the inevitability of creating additional water supply,” Krauss said.

Other commissioners said the city increased its supply but, nonetheless, drought is in Bozeman’s future.

Mayor Cyndy Andrus called the drought management plan essential.

“We are taking measures to conserve water in this closed basin and if we don’t take these measures then we will fail,” Andrus said.

The water fee increases are larger for commercial companies, which will see an 8% increase, and governments like the city of Bozeman, which will see a hike of about 20%. Rates remained stagnant for single-family and low-income housing.

City spokeswoman Melody Mileur said those who receive bills that fall within the city’s highest rates for excessive use can contact Bozeman’s conservation department to find ways to save water.

The city has programs like free sprinkler system assessments and cash rebates to those who upgrade to high-efficiency plumbing. City officials also recently released Dropcountr, a free water use portal and app that allows people with Bozeman water to track their use.

As commissioners continued to work through city fees Monday, they also increased stormwater charges by 4%. Average residential customers will see a 23 cent increase to their monthly bill, which the city estimates would increase its revenue by $80,419.

Average residential customers won’t see a change to their monthly wastewater bill.

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Katheryn Houghton can be reached at khoughton@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628. Follow her on Twitter @K_Hought.

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