BE WARNED: Water Rate Increases (By SF City Councilor Kermit Staggers)

Beware citizens of Sioux Falls with the final reading of a proposed ordinance at this Tuesday’s City Council meeting, the Sioux Falls Water Department wishes to increase water rates by 3% in 2013 and another 3% in 2014.  Presented as bargain-basement rate increases in comparison to previous years of double-digit increases, these rate increases are justified as necessary to pay off the Water Department’s debt in a shorter time frame.  These rate increases are actually part of a larger Department strategy to continue a policy of sustainability in which consumers get less water while at the same time paying more for the water.  Wrapped in the cloak of conservation, the Department portrays itself as taking the moral high ground while at the same time the Department allows water to be wasted by going down the river system to the Gulf of Mexico to be mingled with salt water.

During the 1990s the Water Department operated under a different, pro-consumer philosophy of processing a lot of water for a cheap price for consumers, but since that time the Department has instituted an anti-consumer policy of sustainability by charging higher prices for less water.  This is quite evident in the fact that with the additional water coming from the Lewis and Clark pipeline in a few weeks and increased production capability of the water plant, the Water Department will reduce the amount of water processed from the city’s traditional water sources instead of producing more water to be sold at lower prices

Because of the abundance of water available to the city because of the Lewis and Clark pipeline, it is foolish for the Water Department to continue its anti-consumer policy of selling expensive water when additional water is readily available. By returning to a pro-consumer policy of the past, the Water Department would be imitating successful businesses in the private sector that make large profits by selling products and services to consumers at cheap prices.  The Water Department could actually make more money by reducing the price of water instead of increasing the price.  In terms of real conservation, the salty Gulf of Mexico would have less of our precious fresh water.

(While I agree with Kermit on the issue of supply and demand, I also think that SF water consumers should be awarded for conservation, currently they are not – DL).


#1 John on 07.08.12 at 8:43 pm

The water department should consider doubling the water bill. Since the good citizens put 50% of their treated water on the ground a doubling of the water rate would send the strongest message for water conservation. If that doesn’t reduce needless consumption then the water department should consider doubling the water bill again. Xeriscaping makes sense – even for Sioux Falls.

#2 rufusx on 07.08.12 at 10:19 pm

If Sioux Falls’ contract with LCW is the same as other communities – there is a base-line purchase requirement. Whether you actually USE that base-line amount is irrelevant you will pay for it anyhow. Perhaps the new rates and production amounts reflect a policy of meeting the base-line requirements from LCW, and only using “traditional” city production for anything over and above that amount. Dr. Staggers’ letter doesn’t get into that, but Dr. Rufus’ LCW member town is in the same situation – so …………

#3 GregN on 07.08.12 at 11:19 pm

I chatted with Mark Cotter after the council meeting last week about this. Hopefully I recall all correctly – We are required to buy 3 million gallons a day. We are now doing that. We just make 3 million less gallons a day from our other source (Big Sioux/Skunk Creek/et al). Our current total city usage is something like 70 million gallons a day, so the L&C portion is pretty small. We could sell it as well if we wanted to. Since we can’t store water, either we’d have to sell it or use it, so we just produce less from the ‘traditional’ source and buy our required 3 million gallons. We have well more than we need in aquifers etc so we wouldn’t need to use the L&C water and don’t project to need to for some time. But we are contractually obligated to buy the 3 mil a day so we do. The rate increases largely I think are based on two functions:
1. Pay off of our part of Lewis and Clark (70 million) which is backed by the second penny for collateral in the bond, but functionally the city has opted to pay it through user fees (read: big water rate increases).
2. Pay for huge capital improvements, namely replacing the either neglected for years sewer pipes and infrastructure that was found to be in such disrepair after the big sewer collapse that led to the inspection of all of our sewer lines in the city. So I think we’re largely being punished for sins/neglect (whether benign or active) of the past and paying for it unfortunately.

#4 l3wis on 07.09.12 at 3:40 am

Actually in a meeting last year I attended at city hall, Cotter admitted that they don’t even know when we will use the L & C water to it’s fullest extent. He called it an ’emergency’ water source.

#5 Craig on 07.09.12 at 8:32 am

In this case the city was planning for the future with L&C. We haven’t seen water restrictions in the past few years, but it wasn’t that long ago that we had a drought and people were unable to plant new trees, bushes, or lawns since they wouldn’t allow them to be watered.

SF water rates are still below most cities in the area, and a 3% increase is essentially just keeping up with inflation so I’m not sure I understand the outrage.

I’m in agreement with Kermit on many if not most issues, but I feel he is way off base on this one. First of all we don’t have the right to drain the river dry just for our needs. The water flowing down towards the Gulf is not “wasted”, and if our attitude is that we should use all of it, how would we feel if cities North of us felt the same way?

What if Dell Rapids decided they wanted to start using all that water and selling it to other towns… wouldn’t want it to be “wasted” right?

If Kermit feels the water department is turning gross profits by overcharging, then by all means have an audit performed. My understanding is that they don’t make a profit at all and the funds collected from water bills go towards infrastructure and costs. There were a lot of years we ignored infrastructure, and therefore we have had to play catch-up, but I would much rather pay a bit more up front than have to bond for another expansion at the treatment plant.

What amazes me at the outrage is that for a small family, a water bill is still no more expensive than garbage service. So I can take all the showers I want, drink tap water all day long, flush my toilets just because, and my water bill is still within a few bucks of my garbage bill each day. Seems like a great value to me.

By the way l3wis, consumers ARE rewarded for conservation. It comes in the form of a lower water bill because water rates are tiered. If you conserve, you pay a lower rate. If you are watering your lawn every other day and filling a swimming pool, you will pay much, much more. The city even offers free conservation kits to help you reduce your usage even more.

Besides, can you imagine the logistical nightmare of trying to figure out who is using less water per person? The city would need to track how many people live in every household to know how much water they are using each day. Even that isn’t an accurate total “usage” since some people wash their cars at home or do laundry at home, while others go to a car wash and use a laundromat. So even those who head to a car wash might use more water, they would be rewarded for conserving at home. Hopefully you can understand why the present system is about as efficient as you can get unless you start strapping GPS water usage monitors to the ankles of city residents.

#6 skybluesky on 07.09.12 at 8:39 am

Water conservation is the right thing to do for our region and our planet. “Run government like a business” doesn’t work in every context. Water is a finite resource, therefore the City of Sioux Falls is doing the responsible thing by moving away from a “pro-consumption” model.

#7 GregN on 07.09.12 at 8:42 am

Craig, all good points. Great post. Speaking of the tiered rates, that is one major reason I haven’t used my underground sprinklers in years. If I use them I go into the next tier of rates 7+ CCF and it starts to hurt. So I just don’t water. (The book “American Green” had a big impact on me as well). Its not worth it financially for me. My water bill was $25 in 2005 and now $55 and my family (3 people) has always used 7 CCF/month. Luckily in my position its annoying, and nothing more. It probably hurts a lot more if you are lower income though so I feel for them.

#8 Dan Daily on 07.09.12 at 10:03 pm

Thanks Kermit, good information. You fought to come back because you belong and because you are a true definition of public service.

Finally, someone on the council has discovered free press. All that’s available from print and TV is sewing clubs and unreliable weather. I can’t remember the last time I read the Argus or tuned in to KELO news. Lately, I’ve seen more local advertising on cable channels. I’d rather watch fake wrestling than Channel 16. It’s more entertaining, informational, and doesn’t insult my integrity.

I’d like to see more from other councilors. We are wrong in many cases. Tell us so and explain why. Yes, this site is new media where you’ll be heard and respected. It’s read more than other sources.

Don’t expect Huether to ever comment. He’s busy hiring a team of lawyers to fight federal corruption charges.

#9 Testor15 on 07.10.12 at 6:49 am

I do not want government to run like a business. This is an over used cliche. Most businesses I work with are run as rudderless short term dictatorships. No longer do American businesses consider long-term ramifications for their actions.

We need every form of American government run as the representative democracy form it was designed to be in the 1780’s.

The water system upgrade, sewer upgrades, street repairs and more infrastructure have not been done in years. This is because every mayor Sioux Falls has had starting with Ricky Nobee has refused to maintain infrastructure and instead have some building or bridge built with their names on it. The edifice complex in this town is running strong.

If we had citizen councils and advisers who could really impact the choices, we could have a better Sioux Falls. As it is the developers and bankers essentially run this town with their business based greed.

Believe it or not, ACORN and the unions actually once had a strong positive impact on Sioux Falls. ACORN was citizen based allowing everyone a chance to be at the table. ACORN and the trade unions were able to bring the masses to the discussion and it scared the 1%.

So no, I do not want the inefficiencies and dictatorship processes of private business interfering with my rights and the waste of using ‘profits’ to fund more building plaques to satisfy a politician’s ego.

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