City Council approves 6.65% water hike

SIOUX CITY | The City Council Monday narrowly approved a 6.65 percent water hike, effective July 1.


Council members voted 3-2 to approve the water rate increase over the next three years. Mayor Bob Scott and Councilman Keith Radig voted no.

Under the plan, the average residential water customer would pay an additional $2.27 per month in the first year and $2.39 and $2.57 per month in the second and third years. The average water customer uses 800 cubic feet of water for a total current monthly bill of $33.65.

According to the city Finance Department, the increase will generate just over $3 million in additional water utility revenue over the three years.

Kevin Reilly, 56, of Sioux City, said he had a petition with about 200 signatures of people opposed to the change. However, that wasn't enough to sway the council.

Councilman Dan Moore said the increase was necessary.

"We still have to do what's the greater good for the community," Moore said.

Is Sub Metering Your Water a Good Idea for Your Small Business?

Feb 4, 2016 by Michael Guta In Green Business

Smart electric meters have proven the Internet of Things (IoT) is valid, but now water meters are also getting smarter as submetering systems get installed around the country.


Submetering has been around for several decades. The concept is the basis for individual meters for electricity.

But as water resources get more expensive, owners of apartments, condominiums, mobile home communities and other multi-tenant properties, as well as government officials are encouraging the installation of submeters.

Generally, multi-tenant properties will have a single or master meter for everyone, and the owner of the property is responsible for all of the water and sewer bill.  The owner then divides the bill by the number of units in the property and charges everyone the same amount regardless of how much water each unit has used.


The installation of a submeters does away with the communal system by installing meters behind the master meter for each individual unit on the property. Once it is in place, tenants only pay for what they use. By letting each tenant see how much water they are consuming, it encourages proactive conservation, which helps the environment as water continues to become a precious commodity.


Business owners of multi-tenant buildings such as apartments and condominiums can now offer more control to their tenants, just like their power or cable provider.


The new technology lets tenants access their water usage remotely, monitor how much water they use and make payments online. But it will cost more, because the company operating the submeters is generally a third-party entity that has nothing to do with the city.


In most states around the country, the delivery of electricity and water is highly regulated. And in these states, the submeter fee is usually a very small amount, covered by the landlord or passed on to the tenant. But there are unregulated states that allow companies to increase rates without much control, Ohio being one of them.


A report by Dan Gearino in The Columbus Dispatch highlights what this deregulation has done for tenants with submeters in place. The title of the article, “Submeter water bills irk condo residents” says it all. Several submeter companies are charging up to four times the fees of other providers with best practices in place.

Quoting John Ivanic, a Columbus City Council spokesman, “There is little that the city government can do because this is a ‘private-property issue’ best addressed by state legislators. We sell the water to these companies and these groups, and that’s really the end of our metering of this water.”


However, this is not the norm, and suppliers of submetering equipment and services across the country are quickly distancing themselves from the companies in Ohio that carry out this practice.


Since tenants don’t have a say in the provider of the submetering service, the burden of choosing the company that has best practices in place falls on the property owner. For property owners, the selection of a good service provider can be a used as a differentiator and  a marketing tool for attracting prospective tenants.


The cost of producing potable water is getting more expensive, and while placing submeters in multi-tenant properties will not lower this price point, it allows property owners and residents to be more responsible in how they consume water.

Bill Would Require Water Submeters On New Apartments

  •  Amy Quinton 

Monday, April 20, 2015 | Sacramento, CA

California lawmakers are considering a bill that would require the installation of water meters in each unit of newly constructed apartments. 


Democratic Senator Lois Wolk is author of the proposed legislation. She says almost half of all Californians live in multi-family housing. Fewer than 20-percent ever see a water bill.


“The most efficient way of gaining conservation is a price mechanism," says Wolk. "When people see what they use, and if it’s too much, they’ll cut back.”


Debra Carlton with the California Apartment Association supports the idea of submeters. She says making sure water is conserved is just as difficult for property owners.


“You can ask a tenant all day long to conserve, but they actually don’t know what they should be doing, or even if what they are doing is beneficial if they don’t receive a bill,” says Carlton.


Similar legislation has failed in the past. Carlton says the reasons are complex. Water utility companies often don’t have the manpower to install the large number of submeters that would be required. Currently property owners usually turn to private companies. There are also liability and fairness complications that need to be resolved. 


“Not only are we dealing with the standards for installation in new apartments, but it also brings in the tenant organizations who want to make sure that whatever rules are in place are fair and balanced,” says Steve Carlson with the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles.


But supporters of the bill are hoping the severity of the drought will change the measure’s fate this session.

It’s not just Flint

Cities like Pittsburgh need more federal help with giant water and sewer projects

March 13, 2016 12:00 AM

By Aaron M. Renn

All eyes are on Flint, where failure to properly treat river water corroded its aging water pipes, causing lead to leech into the water supply. Residents are still making do with bottled water while officials scramble to figure out a fix. Estimates are that it would cost up to $1.5 billion to replace the old water pipes.

The water crisis in Flint, though rooted in human error, has exposed the massive problem of aging, obsolete infrastructure facing American cities, particularly those with struggling, post-industrial economies. Many of these are served by aging, leaky water pipes — made not only with lead but, in some places, wood — where city officials have lapsed in upkeep.

Besides water infrastructure, another crisis is unfolding beneath our feet: Local governments are struggling to make critical, federally mandated upgrades to old sewer systems. The financial scale of those projects can be similar to that of Flint’s water infrastructure. Many of the cities expected to pay for these updates are likewise already struggling fiscally and economically.

When American cities first installed sewers in the 19th century, most of them built so-called “combined sewers.” That is, the unsanitary wastewater from buildings was combined with stormwater runoff from streets into a single pipe system. Later, treatment was added to clean the water before returning it to lakes and streams. But in the 772 cities with combined sewers, the capacity of the piping and treatment system can be overwhelmed during heavy rains, allowing untreated, though heavily diluted, wastewater to overflow into local waterways. These are called “combined sewer overflow” events, or CSOs.

The federal Clean Water Act requires these CSOs to be substantially eliminated. The EPA has been undertaking enforcement actions, including lawsuits, against cities and sewer districts to force them to retrofit these systems.

As I document in my recent Manhattan Institute report, “Wasted: How to Fix America’s Sewers,” the cost of these CSO remediation projects is massive — staggering in some cases. In fact, in a number of cities it is by far the biggest capital program in the region.

The EPA estimates that just the 31 cities and sewer districts that have signed consent decrees to settle federal CSO lawsuits will have to pay $29 billion to remediate their sewers. This includes $4.7 billion in St. Louis, $3.3 billion in Cincinnati, $2.7 billion in Cleveland, $2.4 billion in Kansas City and $1.4 billion in Pittsburgh (with costs rising to an estimated $2 billion since the decree was signed).

In the past, the federal government made construction grants available to help localities pay for sewer projects. In recent years, however, these were all but eliminated in favor of loan programs.

This means that today the bulk of these costs are going to be paid by metro area residents in the form of higher sewer bills and taxes.

In many of these former rust-belt cities, economic reinvention after deindustrialization has failed to lift lower-income residents, and they are disproportionately affected by increased sewer bills, even if they receive a hardship discount. So these increases function as a regressive tax, often hitting communities that already are struggling.

If we truly want to help post-industrial cities, one good way to do this is to help them reduce their liabilities — and combined-sewer-overflow remediation is a good place to start.

Strategies could include helping these metro areas shift to newer, so-called “green infrastructure” when it is cheaper. Green infrastructure allows some stormwater to return to soils naturally without flowing into sewers in the first place. Philadelphia is the first city pursuing this on a large scale and the Pittsburgh region is now adopting this approach.

The EPA should also revisit its affordability guidelines to more specifically address the effect of sewer rates on lower-income households, not just median-income households as it does today. It should take a broader view of what makes a community economically and fiscally distressed as well.

Governments might also allow the flexibility to redirect existing forms of aid from things like new highways and real-estate boondoggles such as stadiums to sewers. Programs like these make little sense in shrinking cities, where the last thing that is needed is more infrastructure.

Additional money in the form of renewed federal and increased state aid would also be welcome. The scale of the liabilities facing many of the most struggling communities — sewer, water, streets, parks, buildings, pensions and debt — is simply beyond their ability to pay.

If we as a society have decided that eliminating combined sewer overflows is a critical national endeavor, the federal government should pay for the majority of it, rather than impose a massive unfunded mandate on some of America’s most struggling communities and low-income households.


Aaron M. Renn is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a contributing editor to City Journal and the author of “Wasted: How to Fix America’s Sewers,” on EPA sewer-overflow mandates.

Gretna's big hikes in sewer, water rates come as a shock to some

By Hailey Konnath / World-Herald staff writer | Posted: Wednesday, June 1, 2016 12:30 am

Gretna officials are fielding a slew of angry phone calls after some water and sewer customers were surprised to see their bills more than double this month.


But everyone had plenty of notice about the rate hike, the mayor said.

“We’ve been totally honest from the start,” Mayor Jim Timmerman said.

The rate adjustment, which included a 117 percent rise in the minimum charge for sewer users outside the city, was a long time coming, he said.

Customers inside the city saw their charge increase about 25 percent.

Sewer rates are determined by a base fee as well as a variable fee based on how much wastewater residents add to the sewer system. Water rates are calculated the same way, with the variable fee dependent on water use.

Omaha is addressing a federal mandate to separate stormwater and wastewater by 2027. To pay for it, Omaha is charging its residents and other cities more for treating sewage at its wastewater treatment facility on the Missouri River.

The Gretna sewer rates went up not only because of Omaha’s charges but also because of needed repairs to Gretna’s sewer system. Water rates went up to pay for the water system’s debt, which until now was financed by general operating utility bonds.

Timmerman said the city did everything it could to get the message out about the new rates.

The Gretna City Council approved the new rates at its April 19 meeting. And at the meeting before that, the City Council held a public hearing.

No one showed up for the hearing, Timmerman said, and no one contacted City Council members or city offices. Engineers worked on the new rate structure for several months before settling on one.

He also pointed out that the city’s local newspapers — the Gretna Breeze, which is owned by The World-Herald, and the Gretna Guide — published articles about the coming rate changes.

But many Gretna residents were still surprised by the May bill.

Timmerman acknowledged the hike could be a shock, but said it’s what’s needed to provide the service. A three-bedroom house inside the city was charged $60 for water and sewer this month last year, but during the same period this year will rack up a more than $100 bill.

“We’ve got to look to the future and make sure that fund is there,” Timmerman said.

The sewer rate goes up each year because of Omaha’s charges, said Jeff Kooistra, Gretna’s city administrator. But the last increase in the water rate was three years ago, he said.

Other Sarpy County cities have already felt the pinch. Bellevue residents saw an average increase of $5 per month on their sewer bills in the last year. And in 2015, La Vista implemented a 10 percent increase each year for the next five years.

Water rates will go up 7.5 percent under a settlement agreement between the city, Kentucky American Water Company and groups representing rate payers.


That increase is roughly half the 15.23 percent rate Kentucky American Water Company had originally proposed.

How much water bills will go up will depend on usage and the type of customer — residential verses business. As of April 30, the average residential bill using 4,136 gallons of water per month was $34.41. If the increase is approved, that bill will be $37.38, or an increase of $2.97 a month.

Under the settlement, base water rates — a flat fee customers pay regardless of usage — will not increase. The water company had originally requested a 17 percent increase in its base water rates.

The settlement agreement also includes a slight increase for the city’s monthly use of fire hydrants. The city’s monthly fee is now $41.60. The water company had originally proposed an increase to $48. The two sides agreed to a compromise of $44.80 a month.


Susan Straub, a spokeswoman for the city, said the city agreed to the settlement because it felt that it was the best deal for rate payers.


“The city initially opposed the rate increase,” Straub said. “We are supporting this settlement because we think it is the best deal we can get.”


The settlement is between the water company, the city, the state attorney general’s office, and the Community Action Council. The attorney general’s office and Community Action represent rate payers in the rate increase case. The attorney general has supported the settlement, Straub said.


The water company had originally proposed to increase its annual revenues by $13.5 million. By cutting its rate increase in half, its revenues will only increase by approximately $6.5 million, the attorney general’s office said.

“After several rounds of negotiation, my office reached a settlement with Kentucky American Water,” said Attorney General Andy Beshear. “In the settlement, we were able to save customers $7 million to significantly reduce the impact to monthly bills, and to secure other conditions we believe will further reduce these costs/increases in the future.”

Kentucky American had also requested a surcharge for infrastructure costs that would be added to all bills. The water company agreed to drop the surcharge as part of the settlement agreement, Beshear’s office said.

Susan Lancho, a spokeswoman for Kentucky American Water, said the company filed for the rate increase in January because it was seeking to recover $79 million in infrastructure improvements. If approved by the commission as expected, the 7.5 percent will be the the fifth and smallest rate increase the company has received since 2007.

Kentucky American Water serves 11 Central Kentucky counties including Fayette.

“The new $15 million filtration building (on Richmond Road) is among those improvements,” Lancho said. “We were not asking for an increase in operational expenses. Those have remained flat since 2012 as we have sought ways to offset any increases in operational costs through efficiencies.”

The Urban County Council approved the settlement Tuesday night. The Public Service Commission, which regulates rates of private utility companies, still must sign off on the settlement. The commission is scheduled to discuss the settlement at its next meeting on July 13, commission officials said.

The commission also has final say on when the water rates will take effect. The settlement agreement has recommended the new rates should take effect Aug. 28.

Beth Musgrave: 859-231-3205, @HLCityhall

JULY 6, 2016 12:52 PM

Water rates to increase 7.5 percent under settlement