City of Lawrence to launch new water rate structure that charges higher rates for irrigation, other accessory water use

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After delays, the City of Lawrence is preparing to roll out a new water billing method that aims to encourage conservation by charging higher rates for irrigation or for other accessory uses.

The new billing structure goes into effect April 1 and includes three inclining residential rates and a structure that intends to bill the higher rates only for accessory usage. Households with relatively stable water use all year will pay the lowest rate, while the city will charge those that water their lawns or otherwise use larger-than-average amounts of water 10% to 15% more for those extra gallons.

Whether water use falls under the higher rates is based on each individual household’s water usage, meaning that larger families that generally use more water all year round would not be subject to the higher rates. The city identifies water used for irrigation or other accessory uses by comparing each individual household’s average winter use against its water use during the summer months.

Specifically, the city’s billing system will calculate the average water use for every Lawrence household during the months of December, January and February. If a household goes significantly above its average, or more than 125% above, it has to pay either 10% to 15% more for the water used above that amount. In that way, the same household could be charged all three of the different rates for its water usage in the same bill. Rates then reset each month based on use.

For water usage that falls within 125% of the household’s winter average, the rate is $7.10 per 1,000 gallons, which represents a decrease from the current rate of $7.35, according to a city news release. For gallons used beyond 125% but below 200%, or double the household’s winter average, the rate is $7.81 per 1,000 gallons. For gallons used beyond 200% of the household’s winter average, the rate is $8.17 per 1,000 gallons. The three tiers increase to $7.81, $8.60 and $8.99 per 1,000 gallons for those outside the city limits.

The new structure is the culmination of long-running discussions. The City Commission first said it was in favor of an inclining block rate billing structure in November 2016, but the city’s billing system could not accommodate such a structure at the time. With plans to replace the system in place, the commission again expressed support for the block rate structure during the 2020 budget process, ultimately approving it in December 2020. The new structure was initially scheduled to go into effect in spring 2020, but that rollout was delayed in April by the coronavirus pandemic and a concern that residents would likely be using more water than usual under the stay-at-home order.

The change to billing structure will go into effect for April bills, which reflect March water consumption, according to the news release. To help customers understand how the new model will affect what they pay, the city has also launched an online billing estimator, which is available on the city’s website for residential customers. Customers can use past bills to input how many gallons they used in the winter and summer months to get an idea of what they would pay under the new structure.


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