Durango residents Mary and Joe Shaw were shocked to receive a nearly $400 water bill in July 2016, prompting them to stop watering their lawn this summer.
The Shaws live at 1928 Crestview Drive, a house with a large front yard and backyard.
They removed two trees from the property last summer and laid down sod in their place. But even then, the Shaws did not expect the cost to be significantly different.
“The bill wasn’t anywhere near that high before,” Mary said. “Joe was told to water the sod every day, and that was probably a factor, but he watered it lightly each day.”
The Durango City Council voted in 2014 to raise water and sewer rates starting in 2015, in part to pay for water infrastructure improvements. In 2015, water rates increased by 55 percent. The next two years, water rates increased 10 percent each year. The increases have led some residents to forego watering their lawns.
After receiving their July 2016 bill, the Shaws checked for leaks anywhere in their house that may have contributed to increased water use. They did not find any. So they cut back on their water use. But in August 2016, their water bill was about $300.
Now, for the first time in 47 years since purchasing his home, Joe has stopped tending to the lawn.
“He said to just let the yard go because he doesn’t want to pay an enormous bill like last year. It’s brown, but it won’t die,” Mary said. “We didn’t water at all last month. Joe has the idea of xeriscaping the lawn in the back of his mind.”
Replacing lawns with xeric plantings can cut water usage back by as much as 70 to 80 percent, said Victor Longinotti, owner of the landscaping business AVL Property Maintenance, Inc.
Longinotti said more people are requesting to have their lawns xeriscaped because of increased rates.
“I would say that 15 to 20 percent of our clients are asking for xeriscaping, exclusively to lower their water bill,” he said.
Longinotti said xeriscaping does not entirely limit the need to water lawns and plants.
“You can still use some water, but it is responsible use of water instead of shooting it all over your property,” he said. “Cutting back your sprinklers to a drip system also helps.”
Alice DeKay and her family have lived in their home at 310 West Park Ave. since 1987. After an ongoing battle with the city over her water bill, she also stopped watering her lawn.
“We have a large corner lot. It has been a really hot summer, so this is the worst time for us to not be taking care of our lawn,” she said.
In June 2016, she paid a water bill of almost $150 after consistently watering the lawn. It wasn’t until the next winter that she noticed a discrepancy with her utility bill.
For two bills from December 2016 until February 2017, DeKay was not charged for any water use. In March 2017, her water bill increased to nearly $200.
“I thought that maybe they were making up for not charging me in the winter,” she said. “Someone came to look at the meter, and he said that he could find nothing wrong.”
DeKay said she continued to be charged for water she wasn’t using for the next two months, even though she was not watering her grass.
She fixed a toilet in her home that ran intermittently to see if that would lower her water bill; it did not.
Eventually, the city replaced DeKay’s water meter but did not credit her account or give her an explanation as to why her rates were so high in the winter months.
“I paid all that money for water I didn’t use and got none of it back,” she said.
After her experience, DeKay decided she will eventually xeriscape her yard.
“We want to switch to xeriscaping because even if this problem has corrected itself, the rates are going to continue to go up,” she said. “If you drive down Third Avenue, you can see all the yellow lawns. It is like every other yard.”