New rate structure will encourage water conservation by incentivizing reduced water use

WAUKESHA — Clean Wisconsin and the City of Waukesha Water Utility reached a formal agreement today that will readjust the municipality’s water rate structure to reward residents who conserve water. The new structure will encourage water conservation by increasing the per-gallon cost of water as residents use more, allowing them to realize substantial savings simply by curbing wasteful water use both inside and outside of their homes.

“Waukesha’s water problems and radium contamination largely result from an overuse of water,” said Melissa Malott, water program director at Clean Wisconsin, the state’s largest environmental advocacy organization. “This new rate structure ensures that Waukesha residents who use small volumes of water do not shoulder the burden created by those who use large volumes of water.”

The Waukesha area has suffered one of the nation’s greatest groundwater aquifer drawdowns due to an unsustainable use of water. This excessive drawdown of the groundwater aquifers beneath Waukesha has led to groundwater quality problems, specifically an increased occurrence of radium, a naturally occurring radioactive element that is carcinogenic and regulated by both the U.S. EPA and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Waukesha must currently expend significant resources on radium treatment to protect the health of its residents.

“The high cost of radium compliance should be borne by those who use excessive amounts of water,” said Malott. “This new rate structure rewards the majority of Waukesha residents who use water responsibly while encouraging large volume water users to conserve more of this vital resource.”

The importance of Waukesha’s rate structure may well have an impact far beyond the city limits. Waukesha will likely become one of the first cities in the region to apply for a diversion of water from Lake Michigan under the Great Lakes Compact, and the strong water conservation efforts agreed upon today will set a precedent that helps preserve the strength of the Great Lakes Compact.

“Today’s agreement helps ensure that cities across the Great Lakes Region that apply to divert water from the Great Lakes Basin must first adopt strong water conservation measures,” said Malott. “It is a victory for the people of Waukesha as well as for the millions of people who live, work and play in the Great Lakes Region.”

Under the agreement, Waukesha and Clean Wisconsin will collaborate with Public Service Commission staff over the next three years to evaluate the effectiveness of the new rate design and other conservation programs, such as a toilet rebate program. The agreement requires a formal rate review proceeding by the end of 2011 to evaluate the rate design and make any necessary modifications.

“In 2007, Waukesha became the first city in the state to establish a water conservation rate design,” said Malott. “Today’s agreement will keep Waukesha on the leading-edge of water conservation efforts and set an important example for other water utilities in the state and throughout the Great Lakes Basin.”