All residential customers in the Reno area would be forced to have water meters under a conservation plan being considered by the area's water agency.
The Truckee Meadows Water Authority has set a Dec. 10 public meeting on the plan affecting 31,000 homeowners who now pay a flat fee. The rest of its 79,000 customers have meters and pay a rate based on consumption.
Supporters of meters have said conservation is important because Nevada is the driest state in the nation.
"I really think you should pay for what you use," said Sparks Councilman Mike Carrigan, an authority board member. "When you go to the gas station, don't you pay for what you put in the car?"
But flat rate customer Sherri Leon of Reno said she doesn't understand why she must conserve while a building boom continues.
Nevada's population soared from about 490,000 in 1970 to 2.1 million in 2001, making it the nation's fastest-growing state.
"Every summer here, it's all about the drought situation," she told the Reno Gazette-Journal. "But what's up with the building?"
Kent Steglich of Sparks shares her concerns. "I don't have trouble paying a little extra as long as none of the savings goes to growth and goes for storage for drought years," he said.
Carrigan stressed that developers must buy water rights to get water service and build. Water saved from conservation will go into reservoirs or benefit the Truckee River and Pyramid Lake, he said.
Since 1988, all new homes in the Reno area have been required to have meters.
The water authority no longer is bound by a state law that barred its predecessor, Sierra Pacific Power Co., from forcing meters onto older homes until 90 percent of Reno-area homes are on meters, according to a recent Nevada attorney general's opinion.
David Farside, a Sparks citizen activist, said he fears metered water will cost much more than the flat rate in the future.
"When everyone is converted to metered rates, (the authority) will still have to generate X amount of dollars," he said. "As consumers conserve to save money, the authority will increase rates to increase revenues. Either way for the consumer, it's a Catch-22."
If all flat-rate customers were switched to meters and reduced their water consumption by 50 percent to match metered customers' usage, the water authority would lose $5.3 million a year, a report shows.