Town of Boone's water talks continue
By Frank Ruggiero
Though the Boone Town Council acknowledged that rationing its remaining water supply over the next five years is crucial, council members also realized that conservation on behalf of town residents will play an equally important role.
The town’s water study committee formed a subcommittee to study this very aspect and report back to the study committee, which will then report back to council.
The subcommittee, comprised of council member Bunk Spann, committee members Phil Templeton and Steve Owen, and resident Patrick Beville, met Wednesday with Rick Miller, director of Boone Public Utilities, to discuss conservation methods — both voluntary and mandatory.
In its water and sewer ordinance, the town has regulations in place to deal with restrictions during times of water crisis, though Miller said the ordinance does not spell out specific situations except for drought.
“As far as I know, it’s never been implemented,” he said.
Spann acknowledged that emergency situations are covered, but that the town will have to look at something broader.
Templeton suggested the town initiate programs to make the public aware of conservation methods, particularly in the schools.
“Public awareness programs would be easy to implement,” he said, also mentioning fee-based incentives “to make it financially attractive to conserve.”
At the last meeting of the water study committee, council member Graydon Eggers suggested that customers could pay more for additional water once they’ve exceeded their normal monthly usage. At the subcommittee meeting, Spann said Eggers’s notion could be viable.
Owen told how municipalities could receive grant money to pay for the conversion to low-flow facilities, such as shower heads and toilets, for residents, and said “it might be worth exploring now.”
If people were made more aware of the dollar-to-water ratio, they would probably use less, Owen said.
Templeton asked Miller how much a town water and sewer impact study costs for new businesses, and Miller said such studies cost $40,000. As an example, Templeton described a Laundromat trying to open shop, saying that after spending $40,000 on an impact study, it would leave the business owners with less-than-adequate starting funds, meaning they may have to cut costs by purchasing used equipment. This could lead to the business’s demise, Templeton said, and the non-refundable $40,000 down the drain.
He said the impact study fee has already run off a lot of businesses that intended on opening in Boone.
“Whatever program we come up with, it has to be sold to the public,” Templeton said. “It doesn’t have to taste good, but it’s got to be fair.”
Miller noted that while everyone has to conserve, public utilities is a business that needs to sell water. Beville mentioned increasing rates, to which Miller replied, “You just said a very bad word.”
Though it would be ideal, just telling people to conserve won’t work, Spann said, which is why the town needs incentives to reward residents for using less water.
“We ought to recognize we may have to adjust rates to maintain service,” he said.
Miller said he didn’t disagree with Beville, but acknowledged a rate increase would be “a rough road.” Templeton asked how Boone’s rates ranked with other municipalities, and Miller said they’re low compared to others.
“I want to conserve just as much as everyone else in this situation, but we’re in business to sell water,” Miller said.
Spann said conservation is a long-term strategy and that policies should be put in place for when water is more abundant to prevent residents from reverting to wasteful ways.
Commenting on Miller’s statement, Beville mentioned the business theory of supply and demand, saying if the public utilities department is a business, it would be acceptable to raise the rates as demand increases and supply decreases.
Spann referred back to Owen’s remarks on low-flow devices, saying that could be a first step with the town providing the devices to residents cost-free, based on the notion that the effort would eventually pay for itself. He said the town could apply for grant money to fund the effort, and Beville suggested contacting Lowe’s Hardware to possibly buy the equipment wholesale at face value.
He told how the city of Greensboro employed such a practice when it was suffering from a drought, providing low-flow shower heads and toilets (or encouraging residents to place bricks in their toilet tanks) and, more importantly, how the plan proved successful.
Spann suggested including conservation tips and methods with residents’ water bills, though Miller said there is little room to do so. Templeton once again suggested education on water conservation for children in school, saying they’ll bring this knowledge home with them to influence their parents.
Miller said public awareness and education would yield the most results.
As the meeting drew to a close, Spann asked the subcommittee members to compile their ideas on conservation, focusing first on the voluntary side of the issue. The greater challenge, he said, is mandatory conservation.
Templeton suggested checking policies of other cities that have been through similar crises, saying the town shouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel if such policies already exist.
The next meeting of the water subcommittee will be held Wednesday, May 18, at 1:30 p.m. at the public utilities department.
• Frank Ruggiero may be contacted at email@example.com.