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Water rates continue to increase - by more than 10 percent in some cities.
The costs of improving water quality to meet mandates are proving too large to be diluted unnoticed into consumers' bills, many agencies are finding.
While the trend of increased water costs continues with U.S. rates up an average of 2.6 percent from 1997 to 1998, a new study reveals that some cities experienced increases of more than 10 percent. Of the 51 cities surveyed for the 1998 National Utility Service International Water Price Survey, six cities experienced hikes of 11.22 to 20.2 percent last year (see tables).
The survey cites capital improvements, operations and maintenance costs and rate restructuring as reasons for the increases.
"Quite a few of these smaller utilities [surveyed] had waited five years or more since their last [rate] increase, or they're doing some kind of capital improvement to meet mandates," says Jeannie Cricchio of NUS.
"There can be other factors: catastrophic events, a change in water sources or that a source of funding suddenly goes away," adds Peiffer Brandt of Raftelis Environmental Consulting Group. He says, "It's difficult to say without knowing the histories of these cities."
Cricchio says it isn't fair to assume that utilities with large rate jumps were simply unprepared to meet changing requirements. "The majority are prepared," she says. "But they can't foresee acts of God."
All six cities that experienced large rate increases are served by publicly owned agencies. Public agencies also serve three of the five cities among those surveyed with the most expensive water and all five cities with the least expensive water (see tables).
However, in examining water costs nationwide, the survey reveals considerable regional differences. Of those surveyed, the cities with the most expensive water are clustered largely in the Northeast, while cities with the lowest rates are scattered from the North Central to the East South Central and Southeastern regions.
For more information about the survey, access the NUS web site at www.nusinc.com.
Greatest increase in water cost from 1997 to 1998, among cities surveyed
Cities, % Increase Water Providers Rate Controllers
Providence, R.I., 20.2 Providence Water Supply Board Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission
Denver, Colo., 17.63 Denver Water Dept. Denver Board of Water Commissioners
Miami, Fla., 16.97 Miami-Dade Water & Sewer Auth. Dade Board of County Commissioners
Albuquerque, N.M., 16.65 Albuquerque Public Works Dept. Albuquerque City Council
Kansas City, Mo., 12.65 Kansas City Water Services Dept. Kansas City City Council
Binghamton, N.Y., 11.22 Binghamton City Bureau of Water Binghamton Board of Estimate & Apportionment
Most expensive water in 1998, among cities surveyed
Cities, Avg. Mo. Cost* Water Providers Rate Controllers
Pittsburgh, Pa., $855.26 City of Pittsburgh Water Dept. Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority
Huntington, W.Va., $800.09 West Virginia-American Water Corp. Public Service Commission of West Virginia
Burlington, Vt., $718.09 Burlington Public Works, Water Div. Vermont Department of Public Service
Hackensack, N.J., $743.94 United Water New Jersey New Jersey Board of Public Utilities
Newport, N.H., $731.06 Newport Water Dept. City of Newport Finance Dept.
Least expensive water in 1998, among cities surveyed