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LAS VEGAS — Water will be more expensive this summer in southern Nevada, after the regional public water supplier approved a four-tier rate increase to go into effect in April.
Officials cited ongoing drought and increasing fears of supply shortages, and said they hoped the increased rates adopted by the Las Vegas Valley Water District would help limit water waste.
Richard Wimmer, water district deputy general manager, said customers using minimal amounts of water will see their bills go up about 17 percent. High-volume users will see their bills increase more than 30 percent.
The 6-1 decision by the Clark County Commission, serving as the water district board, came less than a week after researchers at San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography released a dire warning that two key Colorado River reservoirs stand a 50 percent chance of becoming unusable by 2021.
Most of the few people who spoke during a public hearing before the vote said they hoped higher costs would force conservation.
The commission also doubled fines to between $80 and $320 for first offenders caught watering on the wrong day or otherwise violating the water waste rules. The range of fines depends on water meter size.
After a fourth violation, fines will reach $1,280 for small meters and $5,120 for large ones.
"Keep in mind that the purpose of this is to get people to change their behavior," Wimmer said. He added that most cases of water waste are corrected after an initial warning.
Although the price increase will affect high-volume users the most, all water customers will see at least some increase in their bills beginning in April, officials said.
Tier 1, which applies to the first 5,000 gallons used at most single-family homes, will go up 5 percent to $1.16 per 1,000 gallons. The rates will increase 10 percent in Tier 2, 18 percent in Tier 3, and 32 percent in Tier 4.
The district also raised its monthly service fee a flat 50 percent, and raised rates in all four of its consumption-based tiers.
Depending on how customers respond, Wimmer said the rate could generate about $65 million a year. He said some of the money will be used to replenish $30 million taken from the district's reserve fund last year. The rest will be used for maintenance and operation of the district water system.
"It's not a windfall by any stretch," he said.
Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani voted against the change, saying the service fee increase will unfairly hurt low-volume water users and people on fixed incomes. She said she also wants golf courses to pay more for water.
The Scripps scientists cited climate changes and growing demand for water in the Southwest for predictions that lakes Mead and Powell could drop to unusable levels within 13 years.
The Las Vegas area gets about 90 percent of its water from Lake Mead, the vast reservoir behind Hoover Dam on the Arizona-Utah border.
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