Our Water System – How It Works
To promote a better understanding of how our water system works we present the following information:
Water and You
Tap water may not come to mind very often, yet it is a very important matter. Safe and reliable drinking water is a critical component of public health and a priority Town function.
Inadequate management of a water system can lead to major problems such as salmonella outbreaks and state “boil water orders.” In the year 2008, there were 62 state ordered “boil water” mandates for Colorado public water systems and 156,498 people drank from water supplies with health-based violations – there were none in Fraser.
Water is also critical to protecting our community from the threat of fire. More than a mere convenience, it is a critical measure of our quality of life.
Water System Safeguards
To ensure that our water system provides a safe and reliable supply of water we have the following measures in place:
- Certified water system operators providing round-the-clock coverage
- Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) computerized system providing remote monitoring and control of the system
- Security alarms
- Full compliance with all Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) testing and reporting requirements
- Engineering and legal (water rights) planning
- Multi-year budgeting
- Development review and field inspections
- Emergency Response Plan
- Backflow/Cross-connection Control Ordinance
The “Water Metering Act” Colorado Revised Statutes §37-97-103
Of all the regulations promulgated by the EPA and CDPHE, the most visible regulation to our customers has been the Water Metering Act. This act requires public water systems with more than 600 users to provide metered water delivery to its customers. Most water providers placed this financial burden on their customers. Fraser sought and received a grant to subsidize the cost of meter installations.
Meter Reading and Billing
Quarterly water statements now include information regarding meter reads. Please refer to the overview “How to read your Utility Statement” for assistance in understanding what is shown on the utility bill.
Water Service Fees
The Town operates the Water System as an Enterprise Fund outside the General Budget. It is funded through water service fees and viewed as a business enterprise. All expenses and revenues associated with the service are accounted for within the Water Fund.
As a policy matter, the Town has not always attributed all expenses and revenues associated with producing and delivering water within the Water Fund. In years past, decisions were made to subsidize water expenditures by using funds from the General Fund to pay for some expenses. While this kept water rates lower, it reduced available dollars to address other general functions of the Town and, more importantly, did not provide savings for capital improvement projects.
Expenses associated with providing water service include:
- Salaries of employees that operate and manage the system
- Consulting fees for engineers and water attorneys
- Permitting and testing fees
- Chemicals and other supplies necessary for treating our water
- Maintenance of infrastructure (flushing hydrants, replacing worn parts, etc)
- Emergency repairs (water main breaks)
Revenues within the Water Fund include:
- Customer service fees
- Tap fees associated with new development
- Grants; and
- Transfers from the General Fund.
While we have a small customer base over which to allocate the costs of this water service, we are more efficient than many other small systems because we can allocate or share resources across other Town functions.
The Town's currently water base rate is $135.50 per SFE each quarter, with a water consumption rate of $1.50 per 1,000 gallons used. The Town Board annually reviews and establishes the rate based upon the costs of producing and delivering water to customers.
How We Develop Rates
As part of the annual budget process, the Town projects expenses and revenues for the upcoming year. Projected revenues from water service rates are compared against the costs of producing and delivering water to users.
Every rate structure has its challenges. Revenues from service fees should cover expenses associated with providing water service. As we annually evaluate our metered rate structure, we can better evaluate how to charge a more equitable rate for our specific user groups, i.e. commercial, seasonal and full-time customers.
By virtue of being a public utility, every customer of the water system is essentially a partner, or part owner of the system. While the provision of water service is similar to a business, it is not driven by profits or returns. If there were excess revenues over expenditures, they would be maintained within the Water Fund to be available in case of any unforeseen emergencies. Currently, the fund has no such reserves. We are all in this together and must work toward solutions that benefit all of our users.
Whether customers use a minimal amount of water or not, the system always needs to be prepared to serve the maximum amount of users and to provide fire protection flows for a home that may be vacant at the time. Thus, any metered rate structure will include a base rate, or availability of service rate.
The challenge is balancing a rate structure that covers both full-time users and part-time users (our system serves 50% full-time and 50% part-time users). This policy matter will need to be addressed by the Town Board as they evaluate options and ultimately adopt any changes.
The Town has established the following mission statement for the Water Fund:
Provide a safe and reliable supply of quality drinking water at a reasonable cost to customers.
The significant funds expended in recent years on improvements are all consistent with that mission statement. Town officials have made a commitment to avoid ending up in a dire situation like other towns in Colorado.
Fraser town officials are committed to compliance with all regulatory standards. Recent projects within the water system that you may not be aware of include:
Rehabilitation of production wells to increase quantity to ensure an adequate supply of water.
Drilling of a new well, replacement of leaking water mains and associated infrastructure to ensure an adequate supply of water and minimize potential cross-connection issues.
Implementation of a corrosion control plan that adds a conditioning agent to ensure that no metals from old pipes or household fixtures enter the water system while maintaining a pH level that does not leach the metal components from your water pipes.
Development of an emergency response plan (including backup power) to maintain a water supply in emergency situations.
Connection of the two independent water systems operated by the Town into one system to ensure that all users have access to water should any infrastructure fail (well failure, main breaks, power failures, contamination of a well, etc.). We are also currently working to provide additional emergency connections to other water systems.
Implementation of SCADA controls to improve system monitoring and security at all facilities and to provide faster response time when problems occur.
Future Concerns for our Water System
Town officials work diligently to stay current with pending and proposed legislation that impacts the regulatory standards. These changing standards continue to place additional operational burdens on system operators. The result is that as our costs continue to increase (electricity bills for pumps and controls, chemicals for water treatment, additional regulatory requirements, etc.) those increased costs must be allocated across our current, rather small, user base.
What Can Be Done?
While Town officials and staff members are dedicated to our mission, every user can help. Remember, we are all in this together. What can you do to help?
Get involved. Water system projects and rate discussions all occur during public meetings. Town Board meetings are held every first and third Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. in the Town Hall. Board meeting agendas are posted on the website and at the Fraser post office.
Elections for Trustees to the Town Board are held every two years and new ideas often bring new solutions. The Planning Commission and Zoning Board of Adjustment, while appointed positions and not directly involved with water matters, are great venues to begin your involvement and become engaged with local issues.
Every November, the Town holds a series of Budget hearings for the following year. The draft budget is available for review and inspection. Although we typically see very little public participation in these discussions, we would welcome your attendance, comments and suggestions. Get involved!