Stick with higher rates

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By Optic Editorial Board

We understand the frustration that some are feeling with the water rate increases currently proposed. Nevertheless, we urge the Las Vegas City Council to stick with the increases generally as proposed. It’s critical for the future of Las Vegas, given the dire circumstances the city is facing with its water supply.

As proposed, the rates will increase annually until the average city customer will be paying 133 percent more in three years; for outside-the-city customers, the increase for the average water user will top out at 190 percent. Yes, we know those are enormous increases, but they are necessary to meet the needs of the city’s water system, both now and into the future.

The city has a dam, Peterson Dam, holding back the city’s largest reservoir. It’s leaking thousands of gallons of water per day and is in desperate need of repairs. One enormous storm — more likely with climate change, as extreme weather becomes more and more common — could cause the dam to break. The result, in lives and property, would be catastrophic. However, work can’t start on the dam until the funds are there.

The city is also one major wildfire away from a contamination of its main water supply. The city needs to construct sediment retention ponds in the Gallinas Canyon to minimize the contamination, but right now money isn’t available for that either.

And of course, there are other problems, such as leaking waterlines, all over town, and the unresolved question of whether groundwater desalination could work here. These and other projects cost money that the city simply doesn’t have.

To do the Peterson Dam project right — that is, to fix its leaks and raise it high enough to increase the reservoir’s storage capacity — will cost $20 million by itself. So if the council cuts the proposed rate increases to generate $25 million, as is being discussed, instead of $45 million, as is currently proposed, the city will have enough money for one project but not much else. Then, with the next needed fix — and the list of system needs is already quite long —  councilors will once again be looking at ways to raise revenue.

If the city is serious about addressing its many water system needs, why not increase the rates to a level high enough that it won’t need to be revisited again in two or three years? Why not make the investment now instead of later, when the costs will assuredly be more?

Fixing the city’s water system is a necessary investment into the future of Las Vegas. Otherwise, Las Vegas has no future.

This might just be a defining moment for the Las Vegas City Council and its councilors. True enough, a big increase is painful to impose, and even more painful for families to absorb, but anything less is a form of denial. The reality is, it’s going to cost a lot now, or it’ll cost even more later. The city’s water system is neither secure nor adequate, and the time is now to start fixing the problem right.