News Feature | April 23, 2019

Ann Arbor Raises Rates To Combat Ongoing Water Issues

Peter Chawaga - editor

By Peter Chawaga

The City of Ann Arbor, MI, is struggling against a litany of major drinking water issues and the battle has reached residents’ pockets.

The city council recently passed a measure to increase water rates by 6 percent, sewer rates by 7 percent, and stormwater rates by 13 percent. This raises rates by a total of over $45 per resident, generating over $4.5 million of new annual revenue to help pay for ongoing drinking water improvements.

In many ways, the issues in Ann Arbor reflect problems faced by communities all over the country: aging infrastructure, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), bacteria, and 1,4-dioxane.

“City officials say the water rate increases are needed so the city can proceed with planning water system improvements, including a major rehabilitation of the city’s water treatment plant that involves replacing 1930s pre-treatment basins, among other projects to improve the water distribution system and replace aging parts,” Michigan Live reported. “The city is also moving forward with installing a new UV disinfection system at the plant, as well as filters for PFAS, while keeping an eye on the Gelman dioxane plume.”

Plus, Ann Arbor is preparing to replace service lines to combat another one of the country’s most high-profile drinking water issues: lead contamination.

While the city seems to be facing a “perfect storm” of water issues all at once, Ann Arbor may offer a preview for other systems that have failed to continuously upgrade their systems as they age.

“Part of it is we are an older water system that has a need for reinvestment, a need to replace a plant,” Craig Hupy, Ann Arbor’s public services administrator, told Michigan Live. “Hupy recalled years in the 1990s when there were no rate increases and there was lacking investment in the system, so the city has been playing catchup.”

The raised rates will apparently barely begin to cover Ann Arbor’s planned investment in the water systems, which has been more than 10 years in the making.

“In 2006, the city completed a comprehensive plan to prioritize additional improvements,” Michigan Live reported in a story about investment in UV upgrades designed to remove Cryptosporidium. “The city is now planning more than $280 million in upgrades over the next several years, including replacing a large portion of the water treatment plant and aging water mains.”

To read more about how water systems pay for needed upgrades, visit Water Online’s Funding Solutions Center.