BOISE -- United Water Idaho wants more money, and company officials say a big reason they need it is because customers are using less water. This week, the company filed for a rate increase from the Idaho Public Utilities Commission. They want nearly a 20% increase for residential and commercial customers.

United Water officials say they need the money to help pay for $20 million in improvements they already made in Boise. Those include a new water treatment facility on the bench and a new water main on Hill Road.

Business owner: 'That's going to hurt a lot'

While a rate increase isn't a done deal, some customers are already worried. At K-9 Wash n' Go, between three groomers and self-serve grooming, the owner says she goes through a lot of water.

We use a phenomenal amount of water, Rena Alexander, owner of K-9 Wash'n'Go, said.

So, owner Rena Alexander says if her bill goes up by 19.1%, as the company is proposing for commercial customers, she says she'll have financial trouble that could trickle down to customers.

Oh, ouch. That's going to hurt a lot, Alexander said. I guess the only way to offset something like that is to raise my price and then people aren't going to like that, you know, because everything goes up too. You can only raise your price so high.

United Water: 'We did not make this decision lightly'

United Water officials say they understand this isn't an easy time to ask customers for more money.

We understand that for some folks this could be a hardship. We're fully aware of that. We did not make this decision lightly to seek the rate increase, Mark Snider, United Water Idaho, said.

United Water Idaho says it needs the money to cover infrastructure improvements it's made. Officials say they're asking for recovery of funds already spent, not extra money to do more projects.

Part of the problem is customers using less water

The company says a big reason it doesn't have enough money is because people are using less water, consumption is down. But for years, the company has distributed brochures and given tips online about how to conserve water to save the resource and save money.

We also aggressively promote conservation. It's the right thing to do for the system, for the resource, for our customers, Snider said.

So, now people are using less and thereby paying less. KTVB asked the question: Has the push for conservation backfired financially? The company says it may seem counterintuitive , but no, they say conservation means avoiding even bigger longterm costs in terms of saving more usable water underground.

If we can keep more of it in the aquifer and use it for longer amount of time, that reduces the amount of large expense we need to build new sources of supply, Snider said. By prolonging the life of the aquifer, we actually defer the need for a $38 million treatment plant for example.

Opportunity for comment

The average residential customer would see their bill go up around $5.82 a month, according to United Water Idaho. That equates to about $70 over one year.

In addition to this rate proposal, United Water Idaho is also asking the commission to allow annual rate increases based on changing costs. Officials say that way rate increases would be in smaller increments when costs increase.

The Idaho Public Utilities Commission has seven months to review the case and make a decision. The commission could accept, modify, or reject the whole proposal or parts of it.

If you'd like to see the complete proposal, click here.

If you'd like to comment on the proposal, click here.

You can also write to: Idaho Public Utilities Commission, P.O. Box 83720, Boise, ID 83720-0074.

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