Aging Infrastructure Might Be Raising Water Bills

Water treatment plant

Water treatment plant Shutterstock

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

Repairs and water treatment improvements affect affordability, which is why utilities aim to innovate.

WASHINGTON — A Maryland water utility hasn’t had a single water quality violation in its 101-year history, but for the first time aging infrastructure and employees are threatening the utility’s triple-A bond rating, CEO Carla Reid said Monday.

A third of Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission pipes are more than 30 years old, so the utility tries to replace several miles a year, Reid said at the National League of Cities congressional conference.

But whether a utility is improving its infrastructure or its water treatment process with this kind of work, water bill affordability is affected.

“It all comes back to the ratepayer and what they have to pay,” said David Lawny, president of the American Public Works Association.

WSSC defines affordability as a customer’s ability to pay his or her water bill in full on time, and “rate increase fatigue” has become a problem, Reid said. The utility is currently holding community meetings to explain a proposed 5 percent rate increase, the vast majority of which is for debt service.

Alternative revenue sources are needed, which is why the utility is partnering with universities and the Water Research Foundation on cost-saving innovations, Reid said.

In President Trump budget proposal on Monday, the administration has included a $300-million investment that would be targeted at two “innovative” approaches to water infrastructure, providing localities more control over Army Corps of Engineers projects and promoting public-private partnerships, according to a fact sheet. Democrats have called for a much bigger water infrastructure investment, but a measure introduced last month is unlikely to get much Republican support.

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said that in Jackson, Mississippi, the challenge is investing in utilities in a city that has struggled with population declines. The city previously made a “misstep” of investing $90 million—an amount he called an overpayment—for a new water metering and billing system.  

“Poorer and poorer populations are still tasked with managing the water system,” Lumumba said. “People didn’t take the water pipes with them when they left.”

Aging infrastructure is affecting water quality, and changing water treatment procedures has come at “significant expense” to the ratepayer, he added.

Lumumba said Jackson paid three to four times the amount a city twice its size should pay on new systems that didn’t work in concert with each other and employees lacked the training to handle. In all the confusion, some residents have gone as few as two and as much as 10 years without receiving a water bill, while others ignored them.

Now under a federal consent decree, Jackson has had to raise water bill rates to cover gaps in its enterprise fund and enforce water cutoffs—putting financial strain on some.

The city is considering moving to a regionalized system, but “that creates great concern in Jackson among our population about who controls that,” Lumumba said.

Government consolidation and purchasing agreements are two options metro areas can consider, said Scott Berry, director of policy and government affairs at the United States Water Alliance.

Local governments also need to do a better job showing how utilities are saving ratepayers money through new technologies like water fixtures that use less water and leak detection, Lawny said. Water use has been reduced by 10 percent in the U.S. at no extra cost to customers.

Utilities also need to keep an eye on their workforces, officials said. In Maryland, more than 50 percent of WSSC’s employees are eligible to retire in the next five years, so the utility identified its 50 most critical positions with hard-to-find low skill sets, Reid said. Succession plan were established for each.

“Every position will eventually have its own training plan,” she added.

Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Route Fifty and based in Washington, D.C.

FEATURED CASE STUDIES
Powered By The Atlas
Town meets changing LCR compliance by prioritizing communication, resident education, and equity
Wellington, CO 80549, USA
Improved Water Quality and More Field Time Due to a 97% Reduction in Office Admin Work
Marin County, CA, USA
Integrated city systems, unified data, & automation drive 316% increase in field efficiency
Seattle, WA, USA

NEXT STORY: There Really, Really Isn’t a Silver Bullet for Climate Change

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.