H2 Oh No: More Water Problems for Small Vegas Businesses

LAS VEGAS -- A small, country bar has already closed its doors due to the Southern Nevada Water Authority's drastic new water surcharge, after it saw its water bill increase by $400 per month.

Now the question is whether businesses in similar situations here will do the same.

"Utilities should be based on use," said Chris Emanuel, property manager for Virtus Commercial in Las Vegas.

Emanuel currently owns properties for small businesses inside of the Tenaya Village Shopping Center in Las Vegas. The new water surcharge, which charges higher fees to buildings with bigger water meters, has left him with water bill increases of more than $300 per month for certain properties.

"We've always been told to be conservative with our water," said Emanuel. "Then all of a sudden, we get our bills doubled -- not based on usage."

The increase in water fees by the water authority will be used to fund water infrastructure projects throughout southern Nevada. This was previously funded through revenue from water connection charges to new buildings. But the revenue has dropped drastically because of the area's lack of growth, with water authority officials claiming the revenue went from $190 million in 2005 to $3.5 million in 2010.

But is it fair to charge a building based on the size of its water meter, regardless of how much water it uses?

"It just doesn't seem to make much sense," said Emanuel. "It's like saying you have a bigger fuel tank in your car, so you are being charged more because I have a smaller one."

We posed the same question to the Southern Nevada Water Authority. According to the company, the size of a water meter directly impacts the overall water infrastructure system in southern Nevada, regardless of how much water the building actually uses. So to them, buildings with bigger water meters should pay more.

"It's how big is your piece of the infrastructure pie," said Patricia Mulroy, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority. "The best indicator of that, and that's the industry standard throughout the country, is the water meter."

As for the small businesses that are struggling to pay the surcharge, or have closed down altogether, Mulroy said many communities in similar situations have the same issue, and she responded with two questions of her own to the small business owners: "Who do they think should pay? Who should bare the costs?"

Small businesses will have the chance to express their concerns at upcoming water authority meetings, but there's no guarantee that they will make changes to the pricing structure that will be in place for the next three years.

One business has already drowned. Now, a few others could be reaching for a life jacket.