Spokane adopts new water rate structure, but misses opportunity

April 26, 2012

The Spokane City Council has unanimously passed a plan supported by Mayor David Condon to throw out the city’s five-tier, punishing water structure.

The five-tier structure, put in place in 2010, at its highest level charged 23 times more for the last gallon of water used than for the first. The unfair, unneeded system was adopted by a previous administration and council to not only call attention to conservation, but also to “provide sustainable revenue” and protect the Rathdrum Prairie-Spokane Valley Aquifer.

A WPC study released last August, however, showed the new rates are not needed. The citizens of Spokane are already reducing water consumption – down 10% in the past 10 years. And the city’s water department revenue is up. There are no studies showing the health of the RPSV Aquifer in danger.

After the WPC research, a wave of public complaints and the election of a new mayor and city council, the rates were changed last week.

The city will now go back to the four-tier system in place before the five-tier scale was adopted. While it’s a welcome change for homeowners, who won’t see exploding bills over the summer months, policymakers missed an opportunity to adopt the flat rate approach in place in cities of comparable size (like Boise and Tacoma). The flat rate approach calls for flat rates during winter months, when water use in Spokane is low, and an elevated flat rate in summer months, when water use is high. In a previous example, we showed what a “30-90 rate structure” would look like. It is simple, easy to understand, and encourages conservation in the summer months.

Instead, the new (or should we say old) rate structure will still be confusing, just not as confusing.