It was 30 years ago this summer that water rates in Tucson were huge news. How times have changed.
In the summer of 1976, the Tucson City Council instituted a system of “lift charges” to cover the cost of pumping water to higher elevations. Water bills went up an average of 33 percent, though some residents saw far larger increases.
The resulting political outcry led to a 1977 recall election and the replacement of four council members.
This week water rates were again on the City Council agenda. And although council members gave preliminary approval to a series of rate increases, the plan drew scant public opposition.
That is indicative of several things: Tucson Water has done a far better job of keeping its customers informed, and Tucsonans have come to realize that our water rates are reasonable and that water is a precious, costly and scarce commodity.
Tucson Water’s average monthly bill is now about $19, not counting sewer, trash and other fees. That’s far below the national average of $27, according to the American Water Works Association.
On Tuesday, the council gave preliminary approval to a 4.6 percent rate increase in August. The plan also calls for 5 percent rate increases in each of the next four years.
A public hearing and final vote will come in July.
The rate increases are well-reasoned. Money is needed so Tucson Water can expand its underground storage facility in Avra Valley. That would allow the city to start taking its entire allocation of Central Arizona Project water by 2009.
Should the federal government declare a water emergency on the Colorado River, Tucson could lose its full allocation of water if it is not using the entire amount at the time.
The rate increases are reasonable and will help ensure that Tucson has the ability to quickly take its full CAP allotment. That is essential.