SL proposes fee increase for water rights preservation

Show Low City Attorney, Morgan Brown

SHOW LOW — The City of Show Low recently published an online notice to inform residents of a possible increase in the water preservation fee. There are several steps involved in this process and the fee would increase from $1.50 to $3 in February 2020.

Such a proposal, if approved, would mark the second fee increase of this type in 10 years. The first water preservation fee of $0.75 per connection was established by the council June 1, 2010. The second increase of $1.50 per connection, per month for residential and commercial customers was adopted Feb. 6, 2018.

This time the fee increase will be slightly different. If approved, it will impose a $3 fee per connection per month for residential customers with a tiered rate for commercial users based on meter size. The tiered rate will start at $3.00 per month and increase up to $15 per month for the largest sized meters, according to the notice.

According to the city's written report and proposal, $631,516 in water preservation fees have been collected since July 2010 to Sept. 2019.

Why a fee?

Water preservation fee increases are not arbitrary; they have the specific purpose of preserving water rights for residents of the City of Show Low, according to the written proposal and information provided in Tuesday, Nov. 19, council meeting.

“The city is an active participant in the Little Colorado River Coalition, which consists of cities, towns, irrigation districts, and other private parties whose goal is to preserve their water rights in the Little Colorado River (LCR) Adjudication,” also explains the proposal document. “The coalition has hired attorneys to represent the City of Show Low as a member of the coalition. In addition, the city has acquired rights through an agreement with the Show Low-Woodland Irrigation Company in Show Low Lake.”

The adjudication began in 1978 as a judicial proceeding to determine many aspects of water rights specific to the Little Colorado River system which runs through Apache and Navajo counties. There are thousands of water users who are considered claimants in the case as well as the Hopi and Navajo Nation tribes. Trials in the case began last year for tribal claimants and are expected to continue through 2026.

“The impending trials have caused fees and costs to increase,” states the notice. “The city strongly feels that the users of water should pay to preserve the rights to that water. And increase of $1.50 in the fee will allow the city to pay the costs in the adjudication and other actions to protect water rights...”

"During that same time frame the City has spent $ 809,607 on preserving water rights. This leaves a current deficit balance of $178,000 in the water preservation account," indicates the report. "Based on the data, it is clear that the current fee is not adequate to cover the recent average monthly expenditures going forward."

Next steps

The notice of the proposed water preservation fee increase will be published online for 60 days. The City of Show Low will also publish a legal notice for 20 days notifying the public of a public hearing which is anticipated for late December.

A second public hearing will be scheduled for January 2020, followed by a city council vote.

If approved, the new $3 fee rate would be effective 30 days later which is expected to be in Feb. 2020. At that time, the city would also notify customers of the new rate via their water bills, according to City Attorney Morgan Brown.

If the fee is not approved, the old rate of $1.50 per connection, per month, for residential and commercial customers will remain in effect.

For more information, visit the City of Show Low website at showlowaz.gov.

Reach the reporter at

lsingleton@wmicentral.com

Laura Singleton is a reporter for the White Mountain Independent, covering Show Low city government, business and education.

(1) comment

xpdsniper

The only ones winning are the attorneys. Years and years of litigation and zero results.

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