Farms in Amherst may be allowed separate meters to avoid sewer fees

The Daily Hampshire Gazette, January 15, 2018, by Scott Merzbach

Farmers who use town water to irrigate their fields, wash their equipment and hydrate their livestock could soon be allowed to install separate meters to avoid paying sewer fees on that water.

Creating the exemption for bona fide agricultural uses, and permitting installation of separate irrigation meters, will be considered by the Select Board later this month as it acts on a proposal from Town Manager Paul Bockelman that also includes updating water and sewer rates.

Last week, Bockelman presented information to the board about the idea for separate meters. It comes in response to a presentation last spring by a farmer who told the board that town water comes with an added expense, the sewer fee, that farms using their own wells and ponds don’t have to pay.

The town currently charges all customers in the system for both water and sewer use by taking a reading from the water meters installed at homes and businesses. The idea is that whatever water is pumped to a home or business also returns to the sewer.

For farmers, though, much of the town water they use never reaches the sewer.

Bockelman said that while the town has a vested interest in supporting farmers, there still needs to be a way to measure how much of their water use is going toward agricultural purposes.

Department of Public Works Superintendent Guilford Mooring wrote a memo saying that 12 farms, five of which have both town water and town sewer, would likely be the ones interested in having irrigation meters.

Establishing irrigation meters might also move the town toward creating a block rate system in which different users are charged at different rates.

Meanwhile, Bockelman’s proposal for water and sewer customers is to keep the water rate at $3.80 per 100 cubic feet, but to increase the sewer rate from $3.75 to $3.90 per 100 cubic feet. The average four-person household, using 12,000 cubic feet of water per year, would see an increase of $18 for the combined annual bills, from $906 to $924.

The money generated supports the enterprise funds that pay salaries and expenses for both the water and sewer departments.

Even with the adjusted rates, town bills would still be well below the $1,287 state average, and also lower than surrounding communities, based on a survey completed by Tighe & Bond.

The Select Board expects to have a detailed discussion on the topic, and possibly a vote, at its next regular meeting on Jan. 22.