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Water board: no new rates

It decides against changing the rate structure to put a bigger burden on larger water users in Beverly Hills.

By BRIDGET HALL GRUMET, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 3, 2002

LECANTO -- Praising Beverly Hills residents' ongoing efforts to reduce their water use, the Citrus County Water and Wastewater Authority decided Monday not to require conservation rates for the community's utility, Rolling Oaks.

Such rates, also called inverted rates, charge progressively higher prices to larger water users.

Water board members said such a measure would be too drastic for the 5,400-home community, which has worked hard to conserve.

"I can't say I've heard of anyone that's made a community effort like they have," said Mike Smallridge, a member of the five-member board that regulates local private utilities.

The news came as a relief to nearly 50 Beverly Hills residents at the meeting, who feared inverted rates could mean higher water bills for homeowners trying to keep their lawns alive during the drought.

"I've tried to conserve water," resident Billy Bob Gleason told the water board. "I've also watched us all spend several thousand dollars apiece on our lawns to repair the damage."

Residents said it was the drought that brought the inverted rates issue to the board Monday.

As a condition of its water pumping permit from the Southwest Florida Water Management District, Rolling Oaks Utilities is supposed to curb per capita water use to 150 gallons per day by 2008.

Beverly Hills was off to a good start, dropping from 220 gallons per day several years ago to 183 gallons per day last year. But the average crept back up to 192 gallons per day this year.

Several homeowners blamed the drought. Beverly Hills' per capita water use soared to 257 gallons per day in April and 307 gallons per day in May, when homeowners were trying to revive their lawns at the end of a long drought.

Take those two months out of the equation, and Beverly Hills' water use would have continued its downward trend, resident Mike Colbert said.

"We've had two bad months there, but that should not negate the work we've done over the past four years," Colbert said.

The water board members agreed.

"I think we're looking at the words "continuous progress' and what our definition of that would be," board member Ron Broadbent told the room of Beverly Hills residents. "You have shown the trend to reduce consumption over the last few years."

The community faced the prospect of inverted rates last year, but the county water board decided the rate was not needed as long as water use continued to drop.

The board reiterated that position Monday, saying it will re-evaluate Beverly Hills' water use in February 2004. If conservation efforts keep slipping, inverted rates may return to the table, board members said.

In the meantime, Broadbent said Rolling Oaks Utility should identify and educate those who use a lot of water. He also urged the county to enforce its once-a-week watering restrictions.

Some residents questioned whether Beverly Hills residents were being "singled out" for conservation efforts. Not so, Broadbent said.

His community of Sugarmill Woods, as well as the county's utility system, face additional conservation requirements under their recently renewed water pumping permits from Swiftmud, Broadbent said.

Regardless of inverted rates, residents in Beverly Hills and the rest of the county need to accept conservation as a way of life, board member Juan de Torres said.

"If we have lawns that need a lot of watering, perhaps eventually we will have to consider landscaping that does not need so much watering," de Torres said.

-- Bridget Hall Grumet can be reached at 860-7303 or .

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