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The Los Alamos Department of Public Utilities’ proposal to apply tiered residential water rates during peak season generated heated public comment on the county’s Open Forum and at the public hearing.
Although most of those attending the meeting opposed the ordinance, Open Forum comment was evenly split (10 for, 11 opposed). With few exceptions, comments during the meeting and those on the Open Forum had similar themes.
One theme, voiced by Wendy Skidmore at the meeting, is that “The proposed rates are punitive to those with large families, to those who have a lawn and those who maintain gardens.”
Skidmore’s husband Cary added, “My concern is, if we put anything in place that makes it more burdensome to have private green space, that’s a step away from family friendly.”
Edward Schneider argued that any tiered water rate should take into account the difference in climate between Los Alamos and White Rock, since White Rock is much drier and requires more irrigation.
One resident on the Open Forum wrote, “So what happens to the yard trees that die? Because I sure as hell won’t be watering my trees if this passes and I will let my grass die. I will go off the hill to find food because I can’t afford the water to grow the fruits and vegetables I like to eat.”
Many expressed concerns that people would stop watering.
Gerald Antos suggested that, “many in the community will NOT be able to afford the water to grow a potted plant on the porch let alone a full-blown lawn!”
Not all those who would be paying higher rates were opposed to the ordinance.
June Wall wrote, “We choose to spend the extra money it costs to maintain our yard because it gives us a great deal of pleasure and a sense of pride in our home…It is our responsibility to contribute more to the maintenance of the infrastructure as we place more demands on it. We happily accept that responsibility and support the new water tier rate.”
One resident who maintains a large garden with drip irrigation but still might see higher rates supported the increase “as a form of incentive to reduce water usage and resulting demands on infrastructure.
“As a tax-paying, water conscious Los Alamos resident I do not want to be subsidizing building and maintenance of large-scale waterworks so that fellow residents can grow large, lush cosmetic lawns that are basically ill-posed in our near-desert environment.”
Arguments for the ordinance stressed fairness and sustainability.
“Compared to similar proposals in the past, this DPU tiered structure is carefully thought out and fair. Is a rate increase a tax if it more equitably distributes the true cost of a service? I think not,” wrote another respondent.
“It’s important to recognize that the cost of delivering water includes the cost of the infrastructure — which must be sized to meet the peak aggregate demand. Those who use more water make it necessary to have a larger capacity infrastructure,” George Chandler wrote.
“Regarding gardening and landscaping, it is true that we should enable people to have these things, both for their own enjoyment and to create an attractive community. However, there is a big difference between ‘gardening using exactly the same water practices’ and ‘gardening using more efficient water practices.’ We have no responsibility to support the former,” Reid Priedhorsky wrote. Priedhorsky is a member of the Environmental Sustainability Board but submitted his comments as a private citizen.
During public comment, Priedhorsky added, “We need to look at not only can our children play in our yards, but what’s going to happen to their children and their children…Xeriscaping is not a gravel yard. It’s not scraggly brown plants. You can have a very nice yard that’s green that uses less water, and I think it’s perfectly reasonable for the county to ask people to do that.”