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Denver Mayoral candidates Ari Zavaras and John Hickenlooper unveiled separate water plans to deal with the worst drought in the region's recorded history. Although differing on courses of action, both candidates agreed that conservation and rewarding community members who are frugal with water use was their highest priority.
"People have really realized that this is a critical issue, ... and we need to look at this as a community," said Zavaras. "And we should reward those who are really efficient."
Zavaras' Tailored-Approach Pricing Plan, dubbed TAP, focuses on giving each household a water budget determined by specific criteria, such as property size and number of household residents. A committee representing various interests, such as conservationists, developers and government officials would be responsible for setting the water rates.
Households that go over their water allowance would face penalties. Those under budget would be rewarded with a water credit. Alternatively, they could sell it or give it to others who went over budget.
The plan is based on water conservation efforts in several California communities, and Zavaras said the software upgrades would cost about $20 million.
"This lets the individual water user retain control over their commodity," Zavaras said.
However, the credit would have to be used within 60 days in order to avoid people hoarding water.
Zavaras also recommended that the city investigate the possibility of using a Front Range aquifer for extreme droughts and leasing water rights from others, such as farmers.
Hickenlooper cited 10 ideas in his water plan. He suggested revamping the rate structure for water so that residents could choose from several plans, much like cellphone minute plans. Water use exceeding the amount available in the plan would be assessed a premium.
Hickenlooper also suggested that new multi-family developments be required to include sub-meters for individual water use. And he wants to make Xeriscaping more affordable and accessible. The Wynkoop Brewery owner also recommended that better quality soil be used in new construction projects because it can reduce water requirements up to 50 percent.
"The time to act is now," Hickenlooper said, standing next to what little water remains in the South Platte River at Confluence Park. "It will be too late, too expensive and too difficult to address this problem after the taps run dry."
Bart Miller, a water lawyer with the Land and Water Fund of the Rockies in Boulder, said he was "encouraged" that people were exploring new ideas and that incentives for people to conserve water are often very effective.
"Rate structures reward those who use less and educate people on water use," he said, noting that his nonprofit group does not endorse any candidate.