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Cities now have options for meeting state water conservation mandates.
(Published Sep 6, 2012)
Many cities provide an essential ingredient: clean water. They now have more ways to demonstrate careful use of it.
Chapter 150 (SF 1567) made amendments to Minnesota Statutes, section 103G.291, subdivisions 3 and 4 to allow cities to set uniform rates, where each gallon costs the same, but show how they conserve water by decreasing demand for it. Conserving water is the goal.
Previous law required that by January 2013, large public water suppliers use a “conservation rate structure” as the only way to achieve conservation. Under the conservation rate structure, the more water you use compared to others in your class of customer, the more you pay for each gallon.
To make this a little more fun, think of buying a Twins baseball ticket. Even during a less than stellar season, you pay quite a bit extra for the best seats in the house because they’re in a certain block of seats. Under conservation rate structures, a city may charge those who use large amounts of water more for each gallon because they are in that tier of extensive water usage.
However, for some users of city water, that rate structure change sent their water charges soaring. As a result, instead of saving water, as the law intended, some users were considering drilling their own wells and using even more water. Legislative efforts were made to both repeal city authority to prevent private well drilling and to get rid of conservation rate structure completely.
Instead of eliminating a law that that many communities wanted to preserve and that has a laudable goal—to conserve water—the League worked to build flexibility into the requirement. The amended law removes the mandate that public water suppliers serving 1,000 or more people use conservation rate structures by January 2013. Instead, it allows city water systems to show how they are reducing demand for water even if the city still uses a uniform rate structure. The deadline to have these water demand reduction efforts in place is now moved back to Jan. 1, 2015.
Each water system may now develop ways to reduce demand, known as demand reduction measures, showing just that— reduced water usage. Water systems may do all this as part of each system’s water supply plan review process. Cities may still use the previous conservation rate structure, too, if that is preferred in their situation.
Demand reduction measures means measures that reduce water demand, water losses, peak water demands, and nonessential water uses. A “conservation rate structure” means a rate structure that encourages conservation and may include increasing block rates, seasonal rates, time of use rates, individualized goal rates, or excess use rates.
The 2015 deadline also applies to the metropolitan area systems that were previously required to have conservation rate structures in place by 2010, but have yet to comply. As an aside, the amended law also clarifies how conservation rates apply to multi-family dwellings; if a conservation rate is applied to multi-family dwellings, the rate structure must consider each residential unit as an individual user.
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Contact Craig Johnson
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Each edition of the Focus on New Laws column highlights a law passed in the 2012 legislative session that cities need to know about. Please be sure to always consult your city attorney with technical questions about compliance with laws. For more information about new laws, check out the League’s 2012 Law Summaries (pdf).