Westminster Councilors directed city staff to consider suspending Westminster’s top water tier rate Nov. 29, after an evening discussing water policies.
Councilors voted 6-1 to suspend the city’s $12.88 per 1,000 gallons tier three water rate and to stop work on three design contracts for the replacement water treatment facility and related infrastructure. They voted not to hire an independent group to evaluate the city’s water polices and agreed to continue working to improve water billing and customer service.
As a study session — not a city council meeting — the votes’ intention is to provide city staff with feedback and are not final.
Public Works and Utilities Director Max Kirschbaum said Westminster will have water for the 2040 horizon – as indicated in the city’s Comprehensive Plan — if the city continues to invest in infrastructure, is successful in water rights legal matters and doesn’t drastically deviate from existing land use plans if water conservation trends continue.
Representatives from Hydros Consulting group explained how much water the city has now and projected where the city can go from here.
Consultants Dr. John Carron and Taylor Adams, both from Hydros Consulting, urged city officials to focus on current trends, such as climate change and conservation, more than history for the long-term city planning taking multiple different factors and situations into account.
“We want to understand where the risks are in the possible futures,” Carron said.
The city remains in a stable position, assuming conservation trends continue, Carron said. Westminster’s currently planned build-out, based on the Comprehensive Plan and zoning rules, predicts demand between 16,000 and 23,000 acre-feet per year – enough to sustain current demand. A broader prediction from Carron put that range between 13,000 and 34,000 acre-feet, however. That means the city may have enough water – or it may not.
“If the current trends continue, there certainly is sufficient supply based on those current trends assumptions,” Carron said.
Carron told councilors to focus on settling policy questions: if the city will support conservation practices, how it will maintain its current network of pipes and mains and how to add new reservoirs to store water. They should also decide how to respond to future droughts, making minor changes to land-use policies to cut back on water use and make water impacts part of land-use decisions.
“If conservation trends continue as it has in the past decade, then you can rely on having, generally, a more reliable water supply because those conservation trends will offset future growth, to some extent,” Carron said.
Even with population growth, conservation trends kept the demand almost the same, he said.
City Councilor Bruce Baker asked if room existed to conserve more, and Adams said yes.
“It’s only going to get better due to things like (more water-efficient technology),” Adams said.
Though, Councilor Sarah Nurmela noted efficient technology comes with a cost for those who might not have it.
“It costs money to conserve water whether that’s outside of your house with getting new sprinklers or changing out your landscape or with replacing your toilets or your dishwasher,” she said. “I think a lot of our community on fixed incomes and low incomes, or renters don’t have that choice.”
Mayor Nancy McNally said the city is overstepping its reach.
“We as a city have chosen to have different sizes of property, and these people that live here today have chosen where to live, and now we are telling them how to live,” McNally said.
Rates not working
Councilor David DeMott said councilors must figure out the city’s water rate structure.
“It’s hitting people’s pockets in a way that they’ve decided we need a different path,” DeMott said.
“Just turning off water, I don’t love hearing that especially when I think about who these families are,” Nurmela said.
She suggested that the city find out why folks cannot afford to pay their water bill and help them.
“We shouldn’t leave them out to dry,” she said.
Councilor Obi Ezeadi asked over an hour’s worth of questions, some involving rates, and said residents do not trust the government. He asked for a summarized version of confusing facts.
“A big function of why we’re here is to educate the public, I believe,” he said.
Room for more?
For future developments, Kirschbaum said proposed projects need to be looked at holistically.
“If there happened to be an exception presented to city council that was significantly different than the designated land use for that parcel, but let’s say it meets every strategic goal that you have as a city council and you regard it to be the best thing this city can do, that’s one project,” he said
DeMott asked about building on open space and how to track the density of development.
“New developments that are in line with the Comprehensive Plan designation can be supported with existing supply. It is when we change Comprehensive Plan designation to those that are more demanding of water that the resiliency of the water supply system can be impacted,” Andy Le, a spokesperson for the city said.