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Sticker Shock Over Water Bills: ‘I Can’t Afford To Water’

TREMONTON, Utah – Instead of a $10 flat fee for irrigation water, dozens of Tremonton residents were surprised to open their monthly bills and discover they owed hundreds of dollars.

“My yard is starting to die because I can’t afford to water it,” said homeowner Doug Aaron. “In this hot weather, it’s going to dry up quick.”

The sticker shock is the result of the city installing meters on about 80 of the 125 households that are connected to pressurized irrigation water. For years, residents have paid a low, year-round fee for unlimited usage.

“That’s my highest utility now,” Aaron said, adding that he’s on a fixed income and that his water bill increased more than tenfold. “I’m going to put my house up for sale if we don’t reconcile this.”

Around the neighborhood, it’s a similar complaint, as residents feel singled out since those without meters are still paying the flat rate. One homeowner’s bill topped out at $233.50 for irrigation water alone—once you add in drinking water and other fees the June statement totaled $383.

“We were completely caught off guard that they were putting in meters,” said Tremonton resident Erik Richardson.

Richardson also questions why the irrigation water is more expensive than drinking water.

“It doesn’t make any sense to me that I pay more for dirty canal water than I do for clean fresh water for my home,” he said.

Richardson said he doesn’t mind conserving and paying for what he uses. He just wants the billing practices to be upfront and fair.

“Share the burden across everybody,” he said.

Paul Fulgham, Tremonton’s public works director, said his workers are behind on installing the irrigation meters. He said it was his choice to initiate per-gallon billing on those who already had meters.

“I think at some time or another I need to start billing them,” Fulgham said. “The meters were in place; we had the means to bill them, so I can take it upon myself. I said, ‘Let’s start billing our customers with meters.’”

Paul Fulgham

Fulgham acknowledged that customers are upset and said he will adjust customers’ bills for the first month if they ended up paying tiered pricing—a process used to incentivize conservation and penalize excessive use by more than doubling the cost of the water once certain usage thresholds are surpassed.

Tremonton needs to expand its irrigation water system (known as secondary water) because its drinking water system is at capacity during the summer months. During peak demands, Fulgham said about 70 percent of the city’s drinking water was being used on landscapes.

He said it will take 10 years to connect all of the city’s 2,600 customers to the irrigation system.

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