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).