The upshot from today’s unfortunate vote by the SNWA board on water-rate increases here in Clark County: Golf courses and casinos win big, residents and small businesses take it on the chin.
The board, backed by Labor, backed the casino “option,” although according to a number of speakers, SNWA never seriously considered continued charging for consumption, or what people and businesses use, over a flat-fee, which eliminated conservation rewards from the commodity charge for residents and small businesses who have invested, in some cases thousands, in water conservation measures. Residents will see rate increases from 15 to 30 percent, on average; minimal water users will see larger increases than high-volume water users.
The real losers were small businesses, which could see their water bills soar by 70 percent. The real winners are casinos and those bastians of blue-collar, progressive organizing, the golf courses. They will see their bills go up by less than 3 percent.
How many of the union members are high-volume users living in gated communities?
We could get into a larger discussion of mean v. median, but clearly the high-volume users, the casino execs and Pat Mulroys of the world, bend the “average” away from many hundreds of thousands of thrifty water users. Those using minimal amounts are losers, and if this is the model for future rate hikes, will become even bigger losers down the road. High-volume users, naturally, are much happier to pay the $5 flat-fee charge than a per-gallon charge on their water use.
The Nevada Resort Association boss, Virginia Valentine, was so sure of the vote that she didn’t even bother to sign in to speak, appearing only after a representative from the Sierra Club (me!) and numerous speakers from small businesses talked about the inherent inequity of the rate hikes.
The vote comes despite the fact that public comment was overwhelming supportive of a consumption-based charge. One does not need to be a sophisticated political scientist to see that this is a case in which money, and power, trump public desires.
It gets worse.
Labor argued that this was a good move because we no longer need conservation, and this echoes the consistent message that the SNWA and Pat Mulroy have peddled throughout this process: conserving water (and with it, energy) just doesn’t make sense any more. (This is apparently the source of SNWA’s absurd meme that conservation costs people more – never mind that conservation has so far saved ratepayers from a $15 billion pipeline, the most expensive infrastructure project in the country, and if you think your water-bill increase is a lot to swallow now…)
One piece of good news is that, at least for now, people still have some incentive to conserve water. This only affects the SNWA portion of your bill. The local provider – the Water District, or the cities of Henderson, North Las Vegas or Boulder City – still includes conservation incentives. Again, for now.
The good news is that Chris Giunchigliani of the Clark County Commission, a strong advocate for sensible public policy and smart conservation, has promised to revisit this issue on her board. The county commission is also the Las Vegas Valley Water District, which sends the bills to customers in Las Vegas and unincorporated Clark County.