Firm recommends Amherst charge more for heavier water use

  • Amherst Town Hall

Staff Writer
Saturday, May 02, 2020

AMHERST — To encourage water conservation and stabilize revenue, an environmental consulting firm is again recommending that town officials adopt a new price structure that levies higher rates on those who consume more water.

After delivering a report to the Select Board in October 2017 that demonstrated what an ascending block structure might look like for water rates, with homeowners, businesses and institutions paying more for heavier use of water, Tata & Howard of Marlborough presented similar advice Friday to the Town Council.

According to slides from the firm’s report, the current structure, in which a fixed rate is assessed for all water that is used in the system, causes fluctuations in revenue from year to year. 

In addition to the ascending block structure, which the report describes as dividing “water usage into blocks with each succeeding block charged at a higher rate than the previous block,” the consultants suggest imposing fixed quarterly charges and having a formal water rate study that will provide Amherst information about both current and future operating and capital costs.

Town Manager Paul Bockelman said this week that the state is trying to encourage such a graduated rate structure, and that the presentation was aimed at informing councilors of this, though he doesn’t expect any decisions to be made soon.

Whether block rates are practical in Amherst is unclear. Bockelman said such a plan is often better suited for residential communities.

One of the challenges is that the University of Massachusetts and the colleges are big water users and would bear the brunt of such a rate structure.

Amherst currently uses a uniform rate of $3.90 per 100 cubic feet of water metered with a $10.20 minimum quarterly charge.  The average household pays about $468 yearly.

Both Northampton and Hadley have scaled water rates.

In Northampton, $4.51 is charged per 100 cubic feet in Tier 1, which is up to 1,600 cubic feet, and amounts over that cost $6.09 per 100 cubic feet. There is a fixed rate for even larger users, according to the report.

In Hadley, $2.58 is charged per 100 cubic feet in Tier 1, which is up to 499 cubic feet; $3.96 per 100 cubic feet for between 500 and 4,124 cubic feet, and $5.57 for amounts above that.

Amherst’s fixed rate has been in place since the early 2000s.

The Select Board delayed a decision in 2017 on the proposals as Department of Public Works Superintendent Guilford Mooring advised members to wait for any major changes until water permitting through the state’s Department of Environmental Protection was completed in 2019.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.