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Conservation Working, But Water Department Rates Still Rising

FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) - Water usage is down in Fort Worth as conservation efforts pay off.  But as people use less water, the city is considering raising what it charges for water to cover water department operating costs.

"They do it for preservation more than anything because they don't want us to run out of water," said Fort Worth resident Tommy Mays.

Tommy and his wife Sylvia said they've followed city watering guidelines while keeping their manicured garden growing and they understand why it's important to conserve.  But what's harder for them to understand is why the cost of their bill continues to rise.

"They're already high," Mays said of his bills. "There's only two of us here -- my wife and I.  So, at over $100 a month is what we pay every month. Yeah, that's high."

And Fort Worth is likely to raise those rates again later this year, as officials plan the 2015 budget.  They say its the cost of doing business in a rapidly growing area.

"We are paying more for raw water, which has been our big driver the last several years in our budget," explained Fort Worth Water Department spokesperson Mary Gugliuzza.  "And over time, electricity costs have gone up, [and] chemical costs have changed."

Gugliuzza said personnel costs also factor in to the equation, but to a lesser degree.

While the city is charging more for water than it did in the past, the city says conservation means people are actually paying just a little more on their bill than they did 15 years ago.

According to Fort Worth Water Department documents, the average water user consumes 3,000 gallons less a month than they did back in 2000. The average water bill is around $6 a month higher than it was 14 years ago.

Planners say thanks to conservation they haven't had to fund any major water plant expansions either, which would have driven water rates even higher. Now they're hoping another rate hike and continued conservation will let them cover the costs of doing business plus plan on finding future sources of water as the area grows.

"The hope is we can fund this for a couple of years and then rates will flatten," said Mayor Betsy Price.  "If we didn't do this with the conservation rates would continue to rise the next 10 or 15 years."

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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