News Feature | July 28, 2014

Radium Reduction Means Rate Hike In Small Town

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome


After two decades without major rate adjustments, covering the cost of radium reduction equipment has sent water bills through the roof in Cutler, a small Illinois town. 

"People say their water bills have more than doubled in recent months, but leaders in the small Perry County town say they have no choice. The water system needs a full upgrade to meet EPA standards, and the work carries a big price tag," WSIL recently reported

What is the equipment in question?

"The EPA is forcing the city to install a radium reduction system after two radium level violations four years ago. The city insists the radium problem is a thing of the past," Southern Illinoisan reported

Per the EPA: "Radium (chemical symbol Ra) is a naturally-occurring radioactive metal. Its most common isotopes are radium-226, radium 224, and radium-228. Radium is a radionuclide formed by the decay of uranium and thorium in the environment. It occurs at low levels in virtually all rock, soil, water, plants, and animals." 

Some ratepayers are not happy.

"This issue is dividing Cutler right now. Residents don't understand why water bills are so high, but city leaders say the extra cost just can't be avoided," the report said. 

Residents spoke up at a town meeting in July. 

“$200 could buy my kids a lot of food instead of paying for water, and I still have to buy bottled water for them to drink,” Dacia Falletta said, per WSIL.

Falletta's bills have grown more than 100 percent.  

"She filled a backyard pool back in May, but says her bill continued to jump the next month for no reason. Dacia's worried to even water her garden," the report said. 

Making matters worse, some residents are unhappy with the quality of the water. 

“The quality of the water is not good, but we still need water. We have to bathe, we have to do laundry, but my kids also need to be fed," Falletta said in the report. 

The mayor spoke up to defend the rate hike. “Our rates were not adjusted for over 20 years so all we're doing is catching up right now to get back to even,” Mayor Ricky Hepp said.

The town is trying to offer some consolation to ratepayers. 

"City leaders promised to check meters for households that dispute their bill. Yet, those homeowners will have to cover the cost if the meters are found to work properly," the report said. 

The rate hike has been staggered. 

"Instead of raising the rates all at once, the city raised rates 7 to 8 percent last May and August and again in June this year. With the increases, a minimum water bill runs $54.43, compared to $41.82 in January 2013, City Treasurer Pat Boyce said," the Southern Illinoisan reported.

For more on policy and politics, check out Water Online's Regulations & Legislation Solution Center

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