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Cities Losing Money With Drought & Watering Restrictions

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(credit: KTVT/KTXA) Jennifer Lindgren
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NORTH TEXAS (CBS 11 NEWS) – Tightening watering restrictions may be saving homeowners on their water bills, but the savings are costing many North Texas cities millions of dollars.

Stage 3 drought watering restrictions continue to be the guidelines set for the North Texas Municipal Water District (NTMWD). The restrictions limit landscape irrigation to twice monthly watering for property owners in the district.

The district includes the cities of Allen, Plano, McKinney, Mesquite, Forney, Richardson, Royse City, Rockwall, Farmersville, Frisco, Garland, Wylie and Princeton.

With the exceptions of McKinney, Forney, Wylie and Royse City, the NTMWD reports, nine cities have met a water usage reduction request of 10 percent over the last year.

“We all understand how critical it is to conserve and save all of our water resources now, because we don’t know how long the drought is going to last,” explained Denise Hickey, Public Relations and Water Conservation Manager for the NTMWD.

Water rates set by the NTMWD continue to increase, to fund projects that will meet the population growth projected for the district. But Hickey acknowledges those savings also come at a financial cost to the cities.

The City of Wylie is budgeting for a loss in fiscal year 2014-2015 of $900,000, due to reduction in usage.

While Garland experienced no shortfall in 2013, the city estimates a revenue shortfall of $3 million to $4 million for fiscal year 2014.

The City of Allen is also reducing water revenue budget projects for this year.

Richardson’s impact is a loss of $770,000 so far in 2014, a number that may increase as long as water conservation measures are being implemented.

Mesquite water rates went up $1.50 in fiscal year 2013, and $2.50 in Fiscal Year 2014, costs that a city spokesperson says come from the increase in rates by the NTMWD. Water revenues decreased by nearly $287,000 from fiscal year 2012 to 2013.

Forney estimates a $70,000 shortfall for fiscal year 2014.

While revenues are mostly down in Frisco, water consumption is down 20-percent, despite tremendous growth.

McKinney was the only city in the district to report a growth in revenue to date (12 percent) for fiscal year 2014. A city spokesperson said McKinney has one of the lowest per capita uses of water, and that the revenue increase is largely attributed to new customers who are moving to the area.

The City of Plano estimates an $11,000,000 shortfall in water revenue for fiscal year 2014. Rates are also up 8 percent this year, as a result of the North Texas Municipal Water District raising its rates.

Steve Stoler, with the City of Plano, says the shortfall impacts a fund set aside for sewer and water capital projects. According to Stoler, instead of 60 days of working capital, the fund now has 29 days of working capital.

“Even if we don’t use the water, we still have to pay for it. Sometimes if you don’t use that amount, they give you a rebate, but it’s a significant impact,” he said.

The Plano City Council will hold a budget meeting in August, and may look at establishing a conservation water rate — a higher water rate for the biggest water users.

Despite the revenue shortfall, Stoler says, Plano has exceeded the conservation request set by the NTMWD with a 20 percent savings of water over the last year.

“There was always a hope that the drought would end,” Stoler said. “We’ve have rains and that would bring us out of the situation, but unfortunately, we’re in our fifth consecutive year of below normal rainfall totals.”

Update July 2, 2014 9:48 AM

The NTMWD responded with the following statement.

The District acts as a regional wholesaler of water to its Member Cities and customers. Rates for services are set at cost. No profits are included, and no taxes are collected. Unit costs for services are lower because the services are regional.

The NTMWD and its Member Cities and Customers water contracts allow the District to issue contract revenue bonds to finance the water supply projects to meet the water demands set by the NTMWD Member Cities and Customers. These water contracts require the NTMWD to receive sufficient revenues from the NTMWD Member Cities and Customers to pay the debt service and operation and maintenance costs of the District’s raw water, treatment plant capacity, pipeline capacity, and pump capacity. This establishes the wholesale water rate to the NTMWD Member Cities and Customers. The NTMWD Member Cities and Customers must then charge a sufficient amount to their consumers to cover not only the District’s water cost, but the cost of operating their own systems.

The NTMWD Member Cities and Customers are charged based on the budget developed at the beginning of the each fiscal year which is required by the contracts to be developed based on each city’s historical highest annual usage. The NTMWD Member Cities and Customers are charged throughout the fiscal year based on this budget. Annually, charges are adjusted based on actual usage.

Annually, charges to the NTMWD Member Cities and Customers are adjusted based on actual usage. For example, if a NTMWD Member City or Customer does not use the full amount of water that was budgeted, the NTMWD Member City or Customer may receive a refund for certain charges that NTMWD collected from the city. These charges include amounts for power and chemicals for the production of water that was budgeted but was not required. Other charges such as debt service payments for bonds used to finance NTMWD’s infrastructure cannot be refunded to the city for unused water. These charges have been committed to the NTMWD’s bond investors and are similar to an individual’s mortgage or car payment which must be paid regardless of whether the individual used the house or car.

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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