For each of the five years between 2003 and 2007, the Madison Water Utility pumped between 11.1 billion and 11.97 billion gallons of water. In 2007 it was 11.4 billion gallons.
But last year, that number was down, way down, to 9.5 billion gallons, "the lowest in at least two decades," says Water Utility spokesperson Gail Gawenda. And in the first six months of this year, water usage seems comparable to the same period in 2008.
Gawenda and Ken Key, the Water Utility's customer-service manager, cite improved conservation and the advent of toilets and fixtures that use less water. But last year's number was also down because the torrential rainfalls of June undercut the need for lawn watering through much of the summer. This year it might be higher, even allowing for the decline in fountain usage.
Doesn't a 1.9 billion-gallon decline spell trouble for a utility that bases its charges on usage? Key allows that it does, which is one reason the Water Utility is now seeking an 18% rate increase. There are of course other factors, notes Water Utility general manager Tom Heikkinen: "We have many infrastructure needs we have to address."