WAILUKU - On average, Maui residents can expect to pay about 4 percent more for water under a proposed rate increase for the county Department of Water Supply, department Director Dave Taylor said Friday.
Approximately 30,000 residents draw their water for cooking, bathing and other uses from standard-sized, ?-inch meters, which currently have a monthly service charge of $9.25. Under increases advanced to the Maui County Council, the service charge for those meters would rise $2 to $11.25. Another 5,000 residential consumers have larger meters and pay a higher service charge.
The council will hold a public hearing on its proposed $549.9 million proposed budget, which includes the proposed water rates, at 9 a.m. Thursday in the eighth-floor Council Chambers. The council will hold a special meeting at 10 a.m. that day to take up the budget for the first of two votes. Second reading is scheduled for 9 a.m. June 6.
The water department's system for charging consumers for gallons used will continue to be tiered and designed to increase the amounts paid for greater water consumption. The new rate structure would add a fourth tier.
There would be no monthly water rate increase for consumers in the first two tiers of usage. Those using zero to 5,000 gallons would continue to pay $1.75 per 1,000 gallons and consumption from 5,001 to 15,000 gallons would still pay the current $3.20 per 1,000 gallons.
The proposed rate increases call for adding 20 cents, or $4.80 per 1,000 gallons, for consumers who use from 15,001 to 35,000 gallons of water. Those using more than 35,000 gallons per month would fall under the new fourth tier, paying $5.25 per 1,000 gallons. Now, they pay $4.60 per 1,000 gallons, for all water used beyond 15,000 gallons.
The average residential water consumer uses 400 to 500 gallons per day, or 12,000 to 15,000 gallons per month, Taylor said. People living in dry areas of the island tend to use more water, he added.
Taylor said 54 percent of the department's residential customers fall in the first two tiers of water rates, for which there are no proposed rate increases. (They would pay the $2-per-month increase for service charges on a ?-inch meter.)
Four percent of the 30,000 residences using standard-sized water meters use more than 39,000 gallons monthly, or more than 20 percent of the total amount of water consumed by residential customers, he said.
"That is the impetus for the fourth tier," Taylor said. "That's where the opportunity for conservation lies."
The department expects to see an additional $1 million to $2 million next fiscal year in revenue from the water rate increases, he said, with the estimates accounting for some loss of water sales because higher rates should drive down water consumption.
The monthly service charges were increased to provide the water department with "revenue stability," Taylor said.
"At the end of the day, the public owns the water system, and the public needs to generate enough revenue to cover operations regardless of usage," he said.
It costs about $50 million annually to operate the water department, with that amount including the cost of annual debt service for capital improvement projects, he said.
The department budgets between $15 million and $20 million annually to pay for electricity that powers pumps, water treatment plants and other facilities, Taylor said.
But the island's weather adds a high degree of variability to the department's actual costs.
If it's a rainy year Upcountry, then the department can rely on cheap surface water sources and gravity to deliver water to residents in the region, he said. But, if the ongoing drought continues, as expected, then the department will need to use electric motors to pump water uphill, adding costs that would be even higher if the price of oil continues to rise.
"Drought and electricity costs are enormous uncertainties that can change our expenses by millions," he said. And, "it's completely beyond our control."
* Brian Perry can be reached at email@example.com.