Water costs causing concern

By Tonya Garner: CNJ staff writer

Clovis resident Phyllis Wallace lives in a humble home with sparse furnishings. However, her back yard is an oasis filled with plants.

A retired teacher, Wallace, 72, said the possibility of an increase in her water bill has her nervously eyeing her budget and wondering if she can maintain her gardens.

New Mexico-American Water Co. filed a rate-increase request last month with the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission which would raise the residential water rates of more than 14,000 Clovis residences by an average of 25 percent. The increase could come as early as April 2007.

New Mexico-American hopes to generate $1.6 million annually to fund infrastructure improvements and cover increased operating costs.

The rate proposal also includes a tiered rate system to reward water conservation, according to Kathy Wright, New Mexico-American vice president.

Under the proposed plan, a residential customer using about 6,000 gallons of water a month would see an increase from $26.20 to $30.76 a month.

Residents who use more than 15,001 gallons a month could see a 47 percent increase, under the proposal.

“My budget just can’t absorb much more,” Wallace said. “With gasoline being so high, I just can’t believe the water company would put that strain on seniors.”

Commercial rates would increase 39 percent for high volume users, according to the proposal submitted to the PRC.

“The reason behind the proposed new tiered rate structure for Clovis is to promote conservation,” Wright said.

Due to the decline in water levels in the Ogalalla Aquifer which supplies water to Clovis residents, the water company has purchased farm land with existing irrigation wells. NMA has rehabilitated the wells with new casings and motors and constructed transmission lines at a cost of $1.6 million. Wright said the improvements are necessary to convert the wells for municipal water use.

Other infrastructure projects in Clovis include replacing a booster station near Greene Acres Park, built in 1945, and installing 13,600 feet of water main at the Clovis Industrial Development Park.

NMA was previously granted an 11 percent residential rate increase in 2005 and 12 percent increase in 1999.

“We have put together a very good plan for the commission to consider,” Wright said. “It contains investments to secure our long-term water supply and improve system reliability and balances necessary revenue increases with conservation initiatives to help our customers lower their water usage.”

Residential, municipal commercial customers can file intervention notices with the PRC, which determines public utility rates.

City Manager Joe Thomas said there have been no formal discussions about the proposal. He said the city attorney is currently reviewing the proposal and it is looking likely the city would intervene.

Proposed conservation initiatives include rebates up to $250 for customers who install low flow toilets, $125 rebates for high efficiency washing machines and rebates of up to $800 for customers who install water efficient landscaping.

Even with the possibility of a strain on her pocketbook, Wallace said her plants are her pride and joy and she has no plans to cut back on her water usage where they are concerned.

“I guess I just won’t wash my hair as often,” she said.

New Mexico-American has supplied Clovis water more than 20 years, according to City Manager Joe Thomas.