Earlier this fall, I attended a council meeting for a small community (less than 350 people) to talk about water rates. This town seemed to be in the same boat as many others across Iowa; rate increases haven’t kept pace with the financial demands of system upgrades and replacements, or in some cases even enough to cover every day operation/maintenance let alone any “emergency” expenses.
In 2012, the American Water Works Association released the report “Buried No Longer: Confronting America’s Water Infrastructure Challenge”. This report has several key findings, one being that the cost of replacing current infrastructure having reached the end of its useful life is $1,000,000,000,000 over the next 25 years. Yes, that’s 12 zeros!
The following year the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) released the 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure in which they gave a “D” to the country’s drinking water infrastructure. To those of you in the industry, this is no surprise. But do your customers understand the urgency of this issue?
Systems across the country are asking their customers to cover the costs of aging infrastructure. How a system funds those projects (loans, bonds, capital improvement reserves) is a topic for another day, but the fact is water rates are going up and will continue to increase.
Many systems are budgeting and performing rate reviews this time of year. If during this process you find that a rate increase is needed, be prepared to advocate for the improvements and projects it will fund. Explain to your customers that to maintain or improve their level of service and continue to provide them with safe and reliable drinking water investments into infrastructure are a must.
I encourage you as general managers, superintendents, board/council members, clerks, and operators to be champions for your water system and leave it in the best condition possible for future users…they will pay for the improvements/upgrades for the consumers after them, as your current customers are paying now.
Back to small town Iowa… I don’t know whether the city decided to move forward with a rate increase, but after the discussion that evening I do know that those 2 citizens in attendance had a clear understanding of why their rates needed to go up. They weren’t necessarily happy about it, but at least they recognized the importance of maintaining infrastructure.