Friday, March 11, 2016

Wastewater Worries: Portsmouth Sewer Rates Increasing

Beginning in April 2016, Portsmouth sewer rates will be increasing. The Daily Times reports that the city’s Wastewater Fund has been in a deficit 9 of the past 11 years and ended 2015 with a deficit balance of $965,198.31.

According to the Times, the current base change which includes the first 1,000 gallons, is $7.01, and in April that will climb to $11. Every 1,000 after the first 1,000 is currently $3.78 and will raise to $5. And, every 1,000 after 13,000 will remain at $5.13 and every 1,000 after 33,000 will remain at $5.54.
(Frank Lewis. "Councilman expresses concerns on issues." Daily Times. March 10, 2016.)

First Ward Councilman Kevin W. Johnson has made his concerns known on the soon-to-be sewer rates in the city.
“Though I certainly support a change in rates to eliminate the nine of past eleven-year deficits, I remain concerned that the increased rates shall be borne particularly by those in single-family homes or apartments,” Johnson said in his correspondence. “Singles and seniors such as myself who regularly utilize 1,000 or fewer gallons per month shall see a 56.9 percent increase come May. Those who utilize up to 13,000 shall see this 56.9 percent for the first 1,000 then a 32.3 percent increase for the second 1,000.”

“I am interested in knowing when was the last time rates were increased for those utilizing over 13,000 and over 33,000 gallons per month?” Johnson asked.

My Take

I believe Councilman Johnson has a legitimate concern about the sewer rate increases. It seems unusual that the percentage of increase for demanding users is considerably lower than that for those who consume fewer gallons per month. I admit I know little about the reasons for such adjustments; however, the need to explain the differences exists. Seniors and others on fixed incomes deserve answers.

Lately, Portsmouth residents have been hit by tax increases and other adjustments to bills that make living here significantly more expensive. Equity of payment for services is crucial to citizens. Fair shares are just that -- costs that present no undue burden on any one segment of the population.

Water is both a valuable resource and an expensive utility. Clean water is a basic human need. It behooves the City of Portsmouth to offer those who conserve water the best possible rates while deterring others from willfully wasting it. Those who waste water and refuse to practice conservation need to pay a premium for their greater consumption. The other major cost consideration is need for those either requiring financial assistance or those on a fixed income.

How are actual sewer rates established (in conjunction with a water bill)?

It seems evident that in the winter, you are not in an “extra water consumption” mode ... doing things such as watering your lawns and gardens, washing your car or house, filling kiddie pools, or having the kids run through the sprinklers.

On the other hand, in the winter, you are in a “basic water needs” usage time. So for this certain chunk of time, the city is measuring your water usage from your faucets -- for showers, cooking, toilet needs, laundry, etc. Therefore, when winter is done, they have a pretty accurate idea of how much water is actually going down the drain and heading off to the sewer. The charge of this calculation is reflected on your bill throughout the year.

Some places like Butler County, Ohio give consumers a summer sewer credit program. Here is how it works:

"Residential customers receive sewer credits during five summer months May, June, July, August and September.
Since water used for landscaping, pools and other outdoor use does not enter the sewer system, BCWS adjusts the sewer portion on bills. The summer sewer credit will begin with the first scheduled meter reading in May and continue for a five month period.
"In each of these months, we compare your summer use with your average monthly winter use. BCWS then deducts the additional amount used in the summer from the sewer portion of your bill.
Customers will see a reduction in their sewer charges on bills issued in June and ending in October.
"Example: BCWS reads a customer's meter in May. After that reading, the summer sewer credit begins and is reflected on their June bill. The last bill that will reflect the summer sewer credit is their October bill."
David Bakke of U.S. News offers us some good tips on conserving water. I believe these are relatively simple things that we all should do. The following ideas help us conserve this precious resource while saving us money on our high water bills:
1. Store cold water in the fridge. Instead of running the tap and waiting for the water to cool off each time you want a cold glass of water, fill up a pitcher or two and store them in your refrigerator. This works well if you use a pitcher with a water filter attached.
2. Take shorter showers. Lingering under the shower head uses up to 5 gallons of water every minute, and experts estimate showers account for up to 17 percent of the average household's water use. By reducing the time you shower by just four minutes, you can save almost 4,000 gallons of water per year. Focus on getting in and getting out. This can save as much as $100 on an annual basis and may help you save money on other utility bills, such as gas and electricity. A five minute shower is recommended as max.
3. Don't let the water run when shaving or brushing your teeth. Don’t make this mistake, since it’s a complete waste of water. To rinse off your razor while shaving, just keep a cup of hot water next to you and dip it in every so often. When brushing your teeth, fill up your rinse cup and turn off the faucet.
4. Install a low-flow shower head. Installing a low-flow shower head can reduce the amount of water you use while showering by as much as 50 percent.  Also, consider faucet aerators that screw onto the bottom of your faucet to reduce water flow, without reducing water pressure. Note: If you have a newer faucet, it may already have one built-in.
5. Run full loads of dishes and laundry. If you load your dishwasher properly, you’ll fit in as much dishes as possible. Running it only when it's full reduces the number of times you need to run it. Likewise, to save water when doing laundry, only run the washer when you have a full load of dirty clothes.
6. Don't hand-wash dishes. You use 1/6 less water by running a full load in the dishwasher. When you're rinsing your dishes before they go in, don't run the tap. Instead, fill up a container with a small amount of water and rinse off all the excess from your dishes with that.
Final thoughts. If you ever notice a short-term increase in your water bill, don't hesitate to contact your provider. Call them up and ask for your meter to be reread. There could be a leak, or it could simply be due to an inaccurate reading of your meter. If there is an error or a leak, do what you need to do to get it fixed as soon as possible.
 (David Bakke. "Simple Ways to Save Money on Your Water Bill."
U.S. News. October 16, 2012.)

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