Water rate hike going ahead

The valley's largest water utility signed off on higher rates Tuesday but not before getting some grief about it from business leaders and residents.

The Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce and others continued their assault on the increase, which will add $5 to most residential water bills but deliver a bigger blow to small businesses.

In the end, the Las Vegas Valley Water District board -- better known as the Clark County Commission -- unanimously adopted the rate hike. The increase will show up on bills in May in the form of a flat, monthly infrastructure fee based on the size of a customer's water meter.

The rate hike originated with the Southern Nevada Water Authority board, which settled on the flat-fee approach last week to pay down debt and fund major construction work.

The new fee is expected to raise about $300 million for the valley's wholesale water supplier over the next three years.

Chamber of Commerce Vice President Brian McAnallen acknowledged the need for the water infrastructure the rate hike will pay for. But he said the method chosen unfairly burdens small to midsize businesses that will pass the cost on to customers.

"We are all going to eat it on the menu. We're all going to pay more for that milk and those eggs," he said.

McAnallen also criticized the way water authority officials developed their rate hike options. "The process should have been started earlier, and it should have been more transparent and open," he said.

Local environmental advocate Launce Rake warned that the rate hike could hurt conservation efforts because it is not tied to consumption and might be seen as a penalty by residents who have cut their water use to the bone in recent years.

It's particularly galling, Rake said, because large-volume water users such as golf courses will see their bills go up by a much smaller percentage than will many residents and small businesses.

"For those who can conserve more, there should be an incentive to do so," he said.

In the end, water district board members signed off on the rate hike but called on staff to quickly start organizing a valley-wide committee for a broader policy discussion of future water infrastructure needs and how the community should pay for them.

Henderson City Council members approved the rate hike in a separate vote Tuesday night. The North Las Vegas City Council is expected to follow suit later this month.

Contact reporter Henry Brean at hbrean@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0350.