In a 3-to-1 vote, the BCWID board of directors approved sticking with a plan to raise irrigation rates 10% per year over the next 10 years after doubling the rates to $54/acre foot back in April.
Board member Dennis Graham proposed a more aggressive increase to irrigation rates over the 10% because of increased maintenance costs over time.
"I am looking at this and trying to figure out how we can work ourselves out of something that the water district has put themselves in over a period over the last 40 or 50 years, and they have really failed the irrigators," Graham said. "The plan for increasing the irrigation rates at 10% per year is a flawed plan. When you factor in inflation and increase 10% per year, it would require over 20 years to catch up with costs."
Graham said that many of the irrigation lines are antiquated and have lived beyond their life expectancy, and that the cost to repair these lines exceeds what the water district is currently charging for irrigation water.
An irrigation study performed by J. Stowe and Company determined that the cost to deliver irrigation water was $184/acre foot for the district.
Graham also said that since the district is charging much less for irrigation water than the cost of delivery, other residents in the county are making up the difference.
"The only way you can do that is by subsidizing the residents of this community and area to make up the difference," Graham said. "That is the only way you can have a business and have a cost of $8 to collect $1, and those are the facts."
Graham was pushing the board to adopt a more aggressive increase in the price to make up for little or no price increases in the past.
"The water board has failed the irrigators because they continue to sell at a reduced price as opposed to increasing the rates for the raw water and accruing additional funds they would need for capital expenditures by replacing those lines and maintaining those lines," Graham said. "If the district would have taken this course of action in the last 40 years, we would have sufficient funds or we would have more funds than we do today for maintaining or replacing lines and without passing this cost on to the consumers who buy the treated water."
Other board members approached the issue from a different perspective, wanting to stick to the increase schedule approved in April.
"I just can't under any good conscious raise somebody's cost of doing business more than 10% a year," said board member Dr. John Hays. "I do realize that we are selling cheap water in the past that put us behind the ball a little bit, but people can't do business every year without knowing what their cost is going to be next year."
Board president Mark Campbell agreed and focused on possible effects on local business with a larger increase in the rates.
"We have to recognize these guys' businesses, their industries, they create jobs, they are part of our community, and my opinion is that we have to work with them to keep them in business," said Campbell "I'm not interested in pushing any of these guys that are in this to make a living out of business by that kind of a rate increase, and we made a deal with them last year."
BCWID general manager Dennis Spinks said that the number of irrigation customers for the district is declining rapidly after the price increase earlier in the year.
"As of 2001, we had 149 properties that we irrigated that year. Last year we had 84 irrigation customers that purchased water from us," said Spinks. "This past summer we had 39 customers assigned a contract for irrigation water."
Spinks said that although the board is looking to stick with their 10 year plan, they may have to look at the numbers each year and figure out an alternative solution.
"Even though you are setting this 10% this year and have it set on the 10 year schedule, this needs to be reviewed every year, and if we can't make progress toward bringing those to numbers together, then we need to look at it again," Spinks said. "Those two numbers, the cost of storage and delivery of $184 an acre foot and the actual cost of irrigation water which is going to be $59 an acre foot, those two have to come toward each other to be making any progress, and if it doesn't, then we are going to need to look at alternatives whether we raise the price of irrigation rates or doing something with those lines to bring that cost down."
In the end, the board approved the 10% increase in irrigation rates to $59/acre foot with board members Stuart Coleman, Mark Campbell, and Dr. John Hays voting in favor; Dennis Graham voting against, and Ted Simpson abstaining.