The agency was ready to impose water conservation rates on the county utility until it asked for a re-evaluation.
By BRIDGET HALL GRUMET
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 10, 2001
LECANTO -- Saying the 6,700 customers of the county-owned water utility system use too much water, the Southwest Florida Water Management District is considering a pumping permit modification that would require the utility to adopt a water conservation rate by November.
A conservation rate, also known as an "inverted rate," charges customers a base fee for an essential amount of water, and then increasingly higher rates for water used beyond that.
"When they're not able to get their per capita use down to an acceptable level any other way, we know that (water conservation rates) work," said Swiftmud spokesman Michael Molligan.
The county's response: Not so fast.
Swiftmud's calculations put the county's per capita water use at 301 gallons per day, based on 1999 figures for water use and projected population data for 2000.
But if the 2000 Census and latest water use numbers are used, the county's water use is more like 230 gallons per person per day, county Utilities Director Lou Badami said.
The distinction is important, Badami said, because when Swiftmud renewed the county's pumping permit in 1992, it required the county to average using 280 gallons or less per person per day by 2002. If the county can show that it is already under that amount, perhaps it can persuade Swiftmud not to require a conservation rate, he said.
"We want to show them that our conservation measures have been working," Badami said.
The permit modification -- sparked by the county's request to increase its pumping permit from 3.24-million to 4.32-million gallons per day -- was slated to come before Swiftmud's governing board April 24.
But the county has requested that the issue be delayed until the board's May 29 meeting so the Swiftmud staff can crunch the numbers again.
Even if Swiftmud does not require the county utility to adopt a conservation rate, the idea may not go away.
Public Resources Management Group, an Orlando-based utilities consultant, will issue a report next month recommending ways the county can curb water use and raise money for the $44.5-million in water and wastewater projects scheduled for the next five years.
Grants, loans, taxing districts and rate increases may be considered in the consultant's report, Badami said. The current rates, he noted, have not been increased since 1989.
"I don't know of any items that cost the same today as they did in 1989," Badami said.
How likely is it that the county utility will end up with an inverted rate? Badami would not say.
"I've been in this industry long enough that I don't speculate," he said.