The Whys Behind Changes in Your Water Bill
By Warren Tenney
You may have noticed from time to time changes to your city's water bill. A city makes adjustments to water and sewer rates to ensure the rates charged to homes and businesses cover the city's expenses. Such adjustments only happen after being approved by your city council. Here are a few of the rising expenses that impact the cost of a city's water and sewer services.
Water. Cities are paying more for this precious commodity. For example, the cost of Colorado River water delivered by the Central Arizona Project (CAP) has increased an average of 6.8 percent annually for the last 15 years. The cost for Salt River water delivered by the Salt River Project (SRP) also has increased even if at a lower rate. Both will continue to rise. For Valley cities, the cost of raw water can be between 10 to 25 percent of their water budget.
Energy. Water and wastewater plants and distribution systems use enormous amounts of energy. Energy costs have risen. The extent of this impact is different for all AMWUA cities because each city has a different treatment processes, different elevation changes, and different energy programs. Two AMWUA cities report their energy costs rose about 30 percent over the last 10 years. Cost increases for energy are expected to continue.
Infrastructure. Water runs to homes and businesses 24/7 365 days a year with little interruption. That’s because the pipes, pumps, valves, tanks and meters it takes to make that happen are regularly maintained, repaired and, when needed, replaced. Other infrastructure costs, like expanding or building new treatment plants, occur less frequently but are very expensive.
City of Peoria utility crew repairs a leak in water infrastructure.
Chemicals. The cost of chemicals needed to treat water and wastewater also are increasing. Again, the extent of this impact is different for all AMWUA cities. One city reported a 33 percent increase in the cost of chemicals over the last 10 years.
Quality. Standards for safe drinking water evolve as scientific knowledge increases. For example, in 2006 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) changed the level of arsenic permitted in drinking water from 50 parts per billion to 10 parts per billion. That required new equipment in the treatment plants and new pipelines to be built. EPA is continually assessing non-regulated contaminants to determine if they should be added to safe drinking water standards, which result in higher costs for water providers.
Security. Government regulations to keep water systems safe are increasing as new threats are identified. It costs to secure infrastructure and to train staff to respond effectively in case of emergencies, such as vandalism or a terror attack.
City of Scottsdale utility crew participates in a drill to keep water flowing during an emergency.
Debt Service. Building and upgrading infrastructure is very expensive and often funded by bonds. These bonds smooth out rate increases by allowing water departments to pay back the debt over long periods of time. Cities work hard to keep their financial houses in order to receive high bond ratings. High bond ratings result in lower interest costs on these debts.
There are costs involved in running a water department that most city residents don’t think about. For example, consider the vehicles necessary to transport water professionals to read meters, take water quality samples, make planned and emergency repairs, and everything else involved to ensure you have water. One AMWUA city reports that it costs $600,000 a year to maintain its fleet of vehicles.
City water departments want residential and commercial customers involved in helping to maintain water systems that provide reliable services. Some cities have citizen water advisory boards, citizen water information seminars and citizen tours. Learn more about your cities’ water systems and help your neighbors understand that a well maintained water and sewer system that is staffed by knowledgeable professionals is vital to maintaining your city’s economy.
For 48 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit www.amwua.org.