Water and Wastewater Trends

When opening the bill from your utility company, it is not uncommon to see an increase in rates for the water/wastewater services. Why do the rates keep going up?While there are numerous factors affecting the amount on the bill, there are three items that have a significant impact on rates: aging infrastructure, increasingly stringent government regulations and the lack of funding sources.

Many municipalities have distribution and collection systems that are over 100 years old. These aging systems are vulnerable to the possibility of contamination, service disruptions, and overall system failure. For example, the American Society of Civil Engineers has assigned an overall grade of D-, to both drinking water and wastewater infrastructure, the lowest grade ever awarded in their assessment of the overall infrastructure situation. Municipalities realize these systems are in desperate need of replacement, but funding is limited.

Municipalities are also dealing with very stringent regulations pertaining to drinking water and wastewater treatment. Federal and State Governments continue to mandate increasingly strict requirements that treatment facilities are often incapable of meeting. As a result, municipalities are required to make major upgrades or complete replacement of their treatment facilities. For example, many communities across the country have parts of their wastewater collection systems that were constructed as a combined sewer system. These systems generally carry wastewater to the treatment facility during dry weather conditions. During rain fall events, the stormwater is also carried in the system resulting in flows greater than the treatment facility’s capacity. This leads to untreated wastewater being discharged into waterways. Practices such as these are required by the Federal Government to be reduced.

As municipalities try to replace and upgrade their aging infrastructure, they face a significant lack of funding. Traditionally, government funds were often available to build new water and wastewater infrastructure but this is generally no longer the case. When funding a new system, or expanding an existing system, the municipality will typically see an increase in usage resulting in an increase in revenue to offset the initial cost. When replacing an aging system, this increase in usage will not be realized which requires funding to come from existing revenues.

Due to the aging infrastructure and increasing governmental requirements of our water and wastewater systems, it is very likely that we’ll all continue to see rate increases on our monthly bills in order to maintain efficient and functioning systems.