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Price of reclaimed water going up, but only a little for golf courses

Thursday, June 20, 2013 by Charlotte Moore

It’s possible some Austin golfers will be paying more in greens fees as the Austin Water Utility prepares to raise the rates for the use of the city’s reclaimed water.

The Reclaimed Water Program runs miles of recycled wastewater through a network of purple pipes buried underground. The water is not for human consumption; it is treated and used for irrigation, cooling towers, toilet flushing and industrial purposes. Current reclaimed water projects include Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, Sand Hill power plant, Mueller retail areas, the University of Texas and the Hornsby Bend sludge treatment plant in eastern Travis County.

Local golf courses are long-time participants of Austin Water’s Reclamation Initiative, including the Jimmy Clay-Roy Kizer Municipal Golf Course facility in southeast Austin. The Clay/Kizer course has been using reclaimed water at a deep discount – less than what other users pay – because the Parks Department paid for laying down the purple pipe infrastructure. This led Austin Water to agree to a 20-year special rate of $0.41 per every thousand gallons until the course could pay off the bond debt on the infrastructure.

Those 20 years are up this year. The current system-wide rate for reclaimed water is $1.50 per thousand gallons. That rate is scheduled to rise to $1.73 in 2014. (Compare that to the rate for potable water at $4.85 per thousand gallons.)

“Clay/Kiser would have gone from 41 cents to next year $1.73,” said David Anders, Austin Water’s Assistant Director for Business Support Services. “That would have been an impact of about $400,000. PARD (Parks and Recreation Department) said that’s a problem. The Golf Advisory Board said it was a problem – bringing the course up to that system-wide rate being too big of an impact in one year.”

So, the utility is working with PARD to help make the financial transition easier. “Instead of going from 41 cents to $1.73, we’ll go to 63 cents,” said Anders. “It substantially reduces the impact from around $400,000 to about $15,000. Each year thereafter we’ll transition them to the system-wide rate.”

This still may not satisfy affected golf associations. On May 28, the Golf Advisory Board – a group of citizens representing various associations that use the city golf courses – sent a memo to City Council regarding reclaimed water rate increases. In it, the advisory committee urged the city to create a group which it says should re-examine the purpose of the city’s water reclamation initiative, analyze the costs of the system expansion and marketing, examine the impact of increased rates on city departments and identify stumbling blocks, like regulation, to increasing the reclaimed water customer base. The committee also suggested the group report back to City Council by Dec. 31 of this year.

Austin Water says the city has spent more than $60 million on the reclaimed water initiative to date, and plans to spend another $40 million in the next five years. The utility appears to be moving on with its plans to increase rates and expand the service to include projects within the Capitol Complex, Downtown Austin and Seton Hospital.

The Hancock Golf Course on East 41st Street is coming out on top of the rate increase. It has been using potable water at a cost of $4.85 to keep its grounds green. Austin Water is in the process of setting Hancock up to use the reclaimed water.

“Hancock was the last city golf course using potable water,” said Daryl Slusher, Austin Water’s Assistant Director for Environmental Affairs and Conservation. “We brought a line from Walnut Creek Wastewater Treatment plant to UT and so that line goes right by the Hancock Golf Course. PARD couldn’t afford to put in the purple pipes, so Austin Water loaned them $615,000.”

The course will repay Austin Water in a variety of ways including allowing the utility to use its space for staging various events. The utility has a similar arrangement with Sand Hill power plant.

With reclaimed water recipients paying higher rates, Austin Water residential customers – who help subsidize the program – should not expect any real measurable changes on their monthly bills.

Austin water and wastewater customers basically subsidize the utility because of what it provides in the future and conservation,” said Anders. “Do customers pay just a little bit more on their bills? Yes. But, the changes in rates customers see are a fraction of pennies.”

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