Water conservation in progressive Park City is a double-edged sword, hitting taxpayers with bigger rate increases just when funds are needed for increased water capacity.

The city has moved up plans for a $4 million pipeline from Rockport Reservoir in response to a November 2007 report showing possible shortfalls in the water supply during dry years. Simultaneously, a projected 8 percent decrease in water usage is expected to cut revenues for the water fund.

The proposed solution: a double-digit rate hike, to take effect in July, accompanied by vigorous water conservation efforts. The 24 percent hike comes after at least five years of significant hikes, according to water department head Kathy Lundborg. It is expected to generate revenues of between $1 million and $2 million annually through 2012. For the average residential customer, the rates will increase from $80 to $100.

Park City plans to use the extra funds to bond for a $4 million, 7-mile-long pipeline from the Rockport Reservoir. In 2010, another increase of 12 percent could be instituted, followed by 6 percent increases in the following two years.

The City Council, which has final say in the plan, will hold a public hearing and could vote on the increase June 19 at 6 p.m. in the Library and Education Center, 1255 Park Ave.

The multi-pronged conservation effort includes everything from newspaper and radio spots to increased fines for residents who disregard rules that restrict outdoor watering to every other day. The fines are being increased up to $750 to penalize repeat offenders, who received 22 percent of the citations in 2007, according to Park City staffers. The fines will help pay for home water audits, which will be required for the repeat offenders.

Improved technology is also part of the conservation package. The city plans to spend about $1.2 million to install 24-radio monitoring equipment system-wide. The technology is projected to save $7 million over 20 years in improved billing, customer service and leak detection. It will also allow users to track their usage online and allow city workers to more easily find violators. The project is expected to be completed in phases through 2010.

The way water costs are paid in Park City is also expected to increase conservation. Water gets more expensive per gallon every 1,000 additional gallons. Water rates also reflect the true cost of service in Park City, which doesn't use property taxes as a source of water fund revenue, Lundborg said.

Regardless, Park City water is likely to remain expensive, the director said. Issues with topography, storage capacity and seasonal variation in supply could leave city leaders in a conservation conundrum for years to come.

"Everybody agrees that conservation is a good way to go," Lundborg said. "It will decrease the amount of additional water needed in the future. ... There's no cheap water left."

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