Lawn watering ordinance could be considered to reduce Grosse Pointe Shores water rates

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published January 26, 2022

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GROSSE POINTE SHORES — Grosse Pointe Shores officials may have finally found a way to reduce sky-high residential water bills, but it would require cooperation from residents to be effective.

As soon as the next regular meeting Feb. 15, the Shores City Council is likely to consider whether or not to implement an ordinance that would regulate the time period when people can water their lawns. During a Jan. 18 City Council meeting, City Manager Stephen Poloni said such an ordinance would enable the city to negotiate a better rate with the Great Lakes Water Authority.

“That is, by far, the No. 1 complaint” from residents, Poloni said of the amount of money residents are getting charged for water and sewage disposal. 

Other officials likewise say high water bills raise the greatest outcry.

Mayor Ted Kedzierski said water bills generate the most calls he gets on any single topic from residents, and he knows when water bills have been mailed out because the calls start rolling in.

“Water seems to generate (concerns),” Kedzierski said. “It’s a real sensitive topic.”

And residents aren’t imagining anything — Poloni said the rates paid by Shores residents really are the highest among GLWA’s customers — even higher than the rates paid by Grosse Pointes Woods and Park, which also purchase water from GLWA. Grosse Pointe City and Grosse Pointe Farms are serviced by the Farms’ water plant, so those cities only have contracts with GLWA for sewage disposal.

“Our bills from GLWA are among the highest in their customer base,” Poloni said. “We’re one of the worst customers that they have because our summer usage is so high and our winter usage is so low.”

Winter usage plummets in the Shores because so many residents spend the winter months in Florida or another warm climate.

Summer usage, by contrast, spikes. Some of that has to do with the size of properties in the Shores, where a number of homes, especially those on the lake, have substantial lawns to irrigate. In addition, there’s the Shores’ small size — there are fewer customers among whom to distribute infrastructure costs. But the biggest issue, by far, is the fact that Poloni said Shores residents use more water during peak systemwide usage times than residents in other communities, many of which have watering ordinances on their books.

“We are the worst customer for using the most water at the (peak-usage) times. … If we can get that peak number down, it will help with our rates,” Poloni said. 

Poloni said if the city enacts an ordinance, “I would guarantee the rate would be lower,” but he didn’t know how much lower. 

However, “there has to be enforcement” of the ordinance, Poloni added.

While he said that didn’t mean the city would ticket offenders immediately, residents who failed to comply could eventually expect to face some sort of fine or penalty.

In June, Public Works Director Michael Way said, the Shores and its engineers with Hubbell, Roth and Clark will be meeting with GLWA officials to negotiate rates for the next five years. Way said GLWA plans to do the same with all of its customers. The city’s rates are based on their “peak demand usage,” and that’s what will be established for the next five years during these negotiations, Way said. If the city can reduce its peak demand usage, he said they should also be able to get lower rates from GLWA. 

However, Poloni said that if the city’s peak demand usage were to go up, they would get hit with a 50% surcharge. 

To negotiate a better rate, Poloni said GLWA officials said the Shores would need to do more than recommend that residents water lawns during non-peak hours — typically, the hours between roughly midnight and 5 a.m. Poloni said they would need to enact an ordinance with enforcement provisions.

Poloni said residents can use as much water as they want during the non-peak hours, because that doesn’t impact their peak-usage rate.

Kedzierski noted that, at press time, the Shores was planning on hosting a town hall meeting from 10 a.m. to noon Feb. 12 at City Hall, as long as COVID-19 case numbers don’t force the city to cancel it. This would be the city’s first town hall in two years because of the pandemic. The mayor said this informal session, during which residents can ask questions and raise concerns, would be a good opportunity for residents to learn more about a possible watering ordinance.

Way said the ordinance would apply to homes with automatic sprinkler systems — which can be programmed to water lawns during certain time periods — and not to people who use manual lawn sprinklers that need to be moved by hand to cover the whole lawn. 

For more information about the Feb. 12 town hall, visit the city’s website at www.gpshoresmi.gov.

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