Las Virgenes Municipal Water District
Six months prior to the implementation of water budgets, LVMWD mailed a simple, one-page Water Budget Questionnaire to approximately 18,300 single family residential customers, representing 92% of the customer base and more than 85% of the total water use. It was important for the District to launch the BBR program with the most accurate information available, especially from its largest customer class. For convenience, a pre-printed and stamped envelope was sent with the questionnaire. More than 45% of customers responded. Public awareness of the importance of returning the questionnaire was increased through messages on the District’s website, in local paper advertisements, in newsletters, and in community group meetings. All forms of responses to the questionnaire were accepted whether mail, fax, email, telephone, or office visit. Most responses were received by mail.
The questionnaire asked customers how many residents live in the property. Customers could either confirm the default of three residents, based on 2010 Census data, or provide other information. The size of the household is also the basis for the “per person” for sanitation service.
Each questionnaire contained the customer’s irrigated area information based on aerial photography; for more information on the development of this data, see Las Virgenes Municipal Water District in Setting a Water Budget. The customer could either confirm the irrigated area or provide information based on their own measurement. On the District website, customers were directed to the Los Angeles County website (http://planning.lacounty.gov/gisnet3) where they could determine areas by drawing polygons within their property. Some used this feature to make maps which they sent back with their questionnaire. About 2,500 customers declared that they had more irrigated area than was indicated in their questionnaire. In response, the District would prepare a Geographical Information System (GIS) map for each customer to demonstrate how their data was derived. Sometimes, the GIS map was just used to confirm the original data provided to the customer. The customer-provided information was accepted if it was no greater than 5% of the aerial photography data. Engaging the customer in this manner was a significant consuming time-consuming effort which was done in the interest of transparency and “showing our work.” It generally led to further one-on-one communication with customers which fostered their understanding of BBRs.
The questionnaire also asked if customers had additional water needs for livestock, medical conditions, or other situations. Letters were sent to customers indicating the approved adjustment based on the policy approved by the Board and included in Library: Variances and Bill Adjustments. Lastly, the questionnaire contained the most current contact information on file and asked customers to update as necessary. This turned out to be a great side benefit because it doubled the database of email addresses, which could be used to enhance future electronic communications.
The questionnaire was an important tool to solicit information and engage customers during BBR development. It provided an opportunity for communication at the customer level, which was consistent with the concept of customized water budgets. It was an effective way to educate the public and “start the conversation.” Agencies that use a questionnaire as a tool to develop water budgets should allocate adequate resources and time to make it effective and meaningful. Doing so promotes better customer understanding of the concepts behind a major rate change.