Moorhead, along with other cities in the metro area, is restricting water usage as the drought drags on relentlessly.
As cities conserve water, it’s of public interest to know who the biggest water consumers are.
We can find that out for the cities of Fargo and West Fargo, where officials were quick to comply with The Forum’s requests.
But we can’t find out the biggest water customers from Moorhead Public Service, which repeatedly denied our requests. Their flimsy answer: Water and electricity services are bundled for commercial customers, and electricity consumption figures are kept confidential by law.
We’re not persuaded that there's a compelling public interest in keeping electricity consumption figures confidential.
But it’s a bunch of malarkey for Moorhead Public Service to claim that it's unable to disclose the water consumption figures because they’re bundled with electricity.
Somewhere at Moorhead Public Service, there has to be a gage determining each customer’s water usage. That’s certainly the case with residential customers, whose consumption is modest compared to commercial customers.
We suspect that the reason for secrecy might be that Moorhead Public Service gives commercial users a price break as a means to attract and keep businesses.
If that’s the case, that should be guided by official public policy, discussed openly, with an opportunity for public comment and approved by elected local leaders who are accountable to voters.
The board members of Moorhead Public Service are appointed, not elected. They are not directly accountable to the Moorhead residents who pay for their services. It’s not surprising that they behave arrogantly, insulated as members are from the public they are supposed to serve.
The Forum will challenge the refusal of Moorhead Public Service to disclose its largest water customers. Moorhead ratepayers have a right to know who the big users are and whether commercial customers are given preferential rates.
Even if bulk discount rates are an effective way of luring businesses, is it a wise policy to in effect encourage wasteful consumption, if that’s what Moorhead Public Service is trying to hide?
In seeking this information, we’re not out to point any fingers. Some industries are, by their nature, water intensive. We understand that.
As we’re reminded in this worsening drought, however, there are times when it’s important to conserve water, a precious natural resource. That’s something that a municipal utility should bear in mind.
We’ll be trying to pry loose the biggest water customers of Moorhead Public Service. But Moorhead residents, who have an important stake in this, should demand openness from their public utility. They should also demand that the Moorhead City Council ensure that Moorhead Public Service, a city entity, is more accountable and more responsive to the ratepayers who pay the bills. That includes residential customers, not just commercial users.
Bundling. What nonsense. Why can’t Moorhead residents know, in the midst of a prolonged drought, who is using the most water?