News Feature | February 21, 2014

Water Rates Rising For Texans Despite Conservation Efforts

By Sara Jerome
@sarmje

droughttxreg

Water bills are on the rise in Texas, even as ratepayers attempt to conserve more water. 

For instance, the 100,000 residents of Wichita Falls, a northwest Texas city, "have substantially cut their water use," the Texas Tribune recently reported

Nevertheless, "their dry lawns may no longer continue to save them money on their water bills. Instead, they will be asked to pay more; the city lost $4.5 million in water sales last year because of the conservation efforts," the report said.

The situation presents problems for water authorities. 

“It’s tough to tell the consumer that ‘Yeah, well, you guys did a great job out there conserving water, but lo and behold, we got hurt financially, so we’ve got to raise your rates,’ ” the assistant city manager, Jim Dockery, said in the report.

One solution that many Texas cities are trying out: Change rate structures to avoid a fluctuation in bills. 

The goal in Fort Worth, "like that of many other cities in Texas, is to change its rate structure to avoid ups and downs. Today, about 17 percent of the utility’s revenue comes from fixed monthly charges that all water customers pay regardless of how much they use," the report said. 

By 2018, a quarter of its revenue "will come from such charges," the report said, citing Mary Gugliuzza, Fort Worth water utility’s spokeswoman. Wichita Falls is considering similar changes, the report said. 

As drought conditions plague Texas, the value of water is a touchy subject, according to a recent editorial in the Houston Chronicle by state Rep. Bill Callegari, who has 40 years of experience in the water industry. 

"Proposals to increase water prices are received as enthusiastically as root canals. Water rates are a frequent source of contention within the Legislature and the regulatory authorities that administer them. Understandably, it's hard to argue for paying more for a substance that literally falls from the sky. Nevertheless, we pay less for our water than its economic worth," he wrote. 

In one recent stand-off on the issue of water rates, public schools had to close. 

"The La Villa Independent School District [was] still at odds with the City of La Villa over water rates in a dispute that resulted in a three-day delay in the start of classes after the holidays," KWTX reported last month. 

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Image credit: "20130821-OC-RBN-2764," © 2013 USDAgov, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en

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