A debate over water irrigation rates sparked a lively discussion, as city council members in Port Richey, Florida, recently revisited the issue. The city’s first water rate hike in nearly a decade took effect this past October. Rate changes threw some customers for a loop when they got bills with huge increases, primarily among the 164 irrigation customers of Port Richey Utilities.

For example, one customer who paid $82.38 for 28,000 gallons of water under the old rate would now pay $342.62 with the new rates.

City Manager Tom O’Neill emphasized that the utility needs adequate revenue. The old rates often did not produce enough revenue to meet expenses, especially for the bulk water the city buys wholesale.

“You cannot deliver any more cheap water,” Councilman Steve O’Neill commented. “It does not exist.”

Council members agreed that city officials have gone out of their way to help heavy water users adapt to the new realities. But while they may have settled on that point, members debated with each other on the practicality of the rate hike. Councilman Bill Colombo believed that the old rates are impractical, and lead to people using way too much water. Meanwhile, Councilman Terry Rowe believed that too many inconsistencies remain in the new, current rates.

The Mayor additionally asked about the possibility of adding reclaimed water service for irrigation, to reduce pressure on the potable water wells. Councilman O’Neill said he had met with New Port Richey officials about their surplus of reclaimed water, and said he was encouraged by the preliminary discussions. Rowe, however, thought that a reclaimed water system would be too expensive for a small city like theirs.