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Las Vegas residential water customers to pay $5 surcharge starting in May

Updated Tuesday, March 6, 2012 | 3:24 p.m.

Steve Sisolak

Steve Sisolak

Pat Mulroy

Pat Mulroy

Las Vegas residents will see their water bills increase by $5 in May, after the Las Vegas Valley Water District board approved the surcharge to help cover debt payments over the next three years.

The flat-rate increase means retail businesses could see their bills increase by $36 and resorts would see their bills rise $2,200.

Approval by the Water District board didn’t come without challenges. Launce Rake, on the state board of the Sierra Club, held up his water bill of about $13. With a $5 increase, he will see an increase of about 40 percent in May. Meanwhile, he said, casinos and golf courses will experience only 2-6 percent increases.

He posited that because he’s a low-water user, “now I’m the enemy.” Though he conserves water, he still gets socked with a huge percentage increase.

Commissioner Steve Sisolak, chairman of the board, agreed. The increases make it appear as though conservation isn’t as important any more. “The more we conserve, the more revenue that the Water District needs, the more they increase rates,” he said.

The rate increase stems from outstanding debt incurred by the Southern Nevada Water Authority, the water wholesaler for several Southern Nevada water districts — in Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, Boulder City and Henderson. The agency is building a third intake at Lake Mead at a cost of some $800 million, to draw water from lower elevations should drought push the lake level lower.

From the Las Vegas Valley Water District alone the flat-rate surcharge will raise an additional $71 million.

Pat Mulroy, head of the Water Authority, said the money is needed because connection fees fell as development in Clark County slowed dramatically. For years, the agency relied on those fees to fund capital projects. When those fees dried up, the authority looked to its only remaining source of big revenue, water consumers.

But the authority board rejected a proposal to increase water rates based on consumption, arguing that it is too unreliable--if people see their bills increase, they could conserve more to save money. Then, the authority might have to raise rates again to meet its debt payments.

Instead, it settled on a flat-rate increase for the next three years.

After fielding complaints from businesses, however, Mulroy promised to evaluate how increases will be incorporated in 2016. She also promised that from now on the Water District will begin posting all material about its meetings--including lengthy back-up documents--online.

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