Customer demand in an increasingly urbanized Kennewick Irrigation District has helped drive the annual cost of water from just under $30 an acre to nearly $430 an acre since 1978, said district manager Chuck Freeman.
Freeman told the agency's Water Rate Advisory Board on Monday that even after adjusting for inflation over those 32 years, the cost has increased four-fold to all of KID's customers, who own more than 20,000 irrigable acres.
Freeman said the agency had 17 employees working to deliver water to 19,171 acres in 1978, and that included 448 farms and "several thousand urban and rural customers."
The total assessment in 1978 for just under 19,000 acres was $566,207, while the KID assessment for 2011 for just over 20,000 acres is expected to be $8.6 million -- a 15-fold increase -- for approximately 21,000 customers.
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Beth Smith, assistant operations manager, said KID also has seen a threefold increase since 1978 in the number of employees, who now include 22 in administration and 24 in operations.
The committee is considering the effects of urbanization as it prepares a recommendation to the board on changes the board might make in water rates for 2012.
"If not for agricultural priorities, the modern KID would not exist," said Freeman in his report.
He said farmers tend to be water savvy and have to be responsible in ordering and managing water received from turnouts on KID's canal system, while urban customers expect water on demand without having to be responsible for maintaining pumps, piping systems and weed growth.
"Urban customers really do cause more costs," Smith said.
Terry Clark, a ditch rider, told the committee that with so many homes being built in what used to be rural areas, canal breaks have become a more serious threat.
"Now everything involves a house. I'm afraid there is going to be a fatality because of too many houses," Clark said.
He said the KID canal system is better than it used to be, but still is "a dinosaur."
Committee member Gary Hall said Freeman's report "emphasizes the increasing costs because of the increasing number of customers."
"This shows the need for educating customers," said committee member Tim Berk.
Earlier in the meeting, Hall voted against approving the minutes of the Nov. 15 committee meeting. He said he was disappointed there were no minutes or other record of the hour-long executive session held at that meeting to consider legal risks of a proposed action.
"To me, there was a great deal of conversation (at the meeting), and there needs to be a public record of some kind," Hall said.
Freeman told Hall he had taken "some notes" but there were no minutes from the closed-door discussion.
w John Trumbo: 582-1529; email@example.com