Water conservation is more than a fleeting trend in Hays, it's a way of life. Residents and city officials alike have worked cooperatively over the decades to ensure long-term availability of the life-sustaining liquid.
Incessant drought conditions and extended periods of hot, dry and windy weather here on the plains might have forced that cooperation initially, but it continues because most people understand the severity of the situation. Even as the city is used as a model for others to emulate, there are no laurels to rest upon. Not when annual precipitation levels leave the region perilously close to obtaining desert status.
So elected officials and city staff continue to search for new ways to reduce usage and increase supplies. Both are useful, yet still require a willing public. Starting Aug. 1, we'll see precisely how accepting Hays residents are of the latest conservation measure.
Targeting the top 20 percent of residential water users, who consume 44 percent of the total, another tier has been added to the monthly bill. While the majority of residents have river stones as part of the landscaping scheme, utilize warm-season grasses or simply allow their lawns to brown during the summer -- which keep their bills at a reasonable amount, there a number of Haysites who enjoy thick, green yards.
Many of those are maintained with minimal amounts of water, and generally a lot more hands-on green-thumbing. Those lawns are not the problem.
More troublesome are the vast expanses at some of the city's largest homes and commercial businesses that retain plushness with constant watering.
"Significant water waste still occurs within the community, during the driest time when our water sources are at their most vulnerable," said Assistant City Manager Paul Briseno at a recent work session.
Officials hope a third tier of billing will help reduce the approximate 3.8 million gallons of water per day used in Hays. Currently, customers are charged $1.80 per 100 cubic feet of water. Go above the average household consumption, which is determined by how much the consumer uses January through March, and the price will double to $3.60. The new tier will charge $7.20 per 100 cubic feet for all usage exceeding the average plus 1,000 cubic feet. If the city moves from the current water watch to either a water warning or emergency, the top tier's cost would be $10 per 100 cubic feet.
"If you have summer water bills that are 1,500 cubic feet or less, you won't have to worry about the third tier, ever," said Nick Willis, city of Hays stormwater superintendent.
"If anybody complains about this (rate change), they can very easily take themselves out of the top 20 percent by doing what the other 80 percent are doing," said City Commissioner Eber Phelps.
City staff will continue bringing new conservation techniques for the commission's consideration, and still are exploring the best option for long-term water availability.
In the meantime, we applaud the latest billing change. Hopefully the surcharge will encourage those homes and businesses to rein in wasteful watering. Unless weather patterns dramatically change and offer rain showers on a regular basis, reducing consumption is the only way to go.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry