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MARBLE FALLS — The Lower Colorado River Authority approved a one-year rate hike for firm water customers during the LCRA Board meeting June 16, adjusting for historic low lake levels, drought conditions, maintenance and service costs.

Water officials in the Highland Lakes say residents of those municipalities affected by the LCRA decision should brace for rate hikes passed onto individual water customers.

“Then that is a real economic effect on everyone, the cities, the municipalities and the water supply companies,” said Jo Karr Tedder of the Central Texas Water Coalition. “Once the cities have to pay more money to get the acre footage that they get from the surface water, then they will have to pass that cost onto customers.”

Firm customers, including many cities in the Highland Lakes, will pay a new rate of $175 per acre-foot beginning with the January 2015 billing cycle. The current rate is $151 per acre-foot. One acre-foot is just under 326,000 gallons. The new firm customer rate also will apply to domestic use customers who draw water directly from the Highland Lakes.

The board also approved new rates for interruptible customers in the Garwood Irrigation Division. Beginning this year, Garwood customers will pay an effective “diversion rate” of $39.37 per acre-foot, a 20 percent increase, according to LCRA.

The board decided not to set new rates for the Gulf Coast and Lakeside irrigation divisions until water is available for them, since those so-called interruptible customers have not received water from the Highland Lakes in 2012, 2013 and 2014 because of the severe drought.

Karr Tedder believes the hike has gone even further out of line with other rates managed by river authorities across the state.

She cited a recent study by a water-rate specialist that showed the typical rate of about $64 for firm customers and $42 for interruptible customers; those rates are more in line with Brazos River Authority customers.

“We’re charged way more money than the other river authority charges their customers,” Karr Tedder said. “Hopefully, this will give the LCRA a year to get the water-rate structure in line with the other river authorities.”

Firm customers are mainly cities and industries but also include residential property owners who pump water directly from the Highland Lakes for domestic use. Firm customers pay a premium for water that is guaranteed to be available even during a repeat of conditions seen in the worst drought in the region’s history, the 10-year drought from 1947 to 1957.

Interruptible customers are those such as agricultural irrigators who pay less than a premium rate, but their water can be curtailed or cut off when the combined storage in lakes Buchanan and Travis drops below a certain level.

Karr Tedder said she considers individual rate hikes inevitable since municipalities are less likely to cut water department budgets to absorb the expense.

“If individuals use less water, then their bills go down — what you’re paying the municipalities — so it impacts the municipalities,” Karr Tedder said. This, she points out, means cities must adjust their rates to recoup the loss of revenue because of conservation efforts. “That’s just the way it works for the municipalities to stay afloat to have a specific amount that they need in their budget.”