Sioux City water rates may rise
June 12, 2012

The city council in Sioux City is considering a 7% increase in water rates. The public rarely, if ever, considers what happens with their drinking water unless one of three things happens: (1) Water rates rise, (2) a nearby water main breaks, or (3) their water starts to taste funny. While that's a testament to the high quality of work done by water professionals in America, it's also a real public-relations challenge. Since everyone uses water, water rates have an impact on everyone in a community -- nobody can avoid paying them. And people on fixed incomes tend to be very sensitive to changes in costs like water rates because it can be difficult to offset a 7% increase in rates with a roughly 7% decrease in water use. So the increased cost of water often comes at the expense of other items in the budget.

But water utilities, like everyone else, face increasing costs for things like energy and face inflationary pressures as well. And, due to decades of under-investment in America's water infrastructure, the country as a whole will have to spend a lot of money to upgrade, repair, and replace portions of our infrastructure that will fail if we don't act.

Some communities take a slow-growth approach and raise their rates a little bit every year. Others try to freeze their rates for as long as possible in order to avoid public backlash. There isn't necessarily a one-size-fits-all approach. However, every community water system needs to take an active role in explaining to the public why they need to consistently invest in their infrastructure. Plant and equipment items wear out, the government imposes new regulations, and new threats to water safety emerge. Examples of those new threats include everything from nanoparticles contaminating the water to endocrine-disrupting chemicals to security and terrorist threats. The push to move away from gaseous chlorine for water disinfection is just a single example of an expensive, long-term issue that will cost many water utilities a lot of money to deliver the same quality of water to the end user.

We have offered several presentations to water utilities on public information and education. Please feel free to contact us with your questions.

June 2012
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