Local News

Flush with water, Raleigh could soon raise rates again

Posted April 12, 2010 4:24 p.m. EDT
Updated April 12, 2010 6:51 p.m. EDT

— The municipal water system could raise rates for the second time in a year to make up for declining water consumption, an official said Monday.

Water rates for customers in Raleigh and the six Wake County towns that use the city's water system went up 17 percent last year, and Ed Buchan, environmental coordinator for Raleigh's Public Utilities Department, said rates might have to go up again to help pay for a new water treatment plant that will come on line next week.

Since the record-setting drought that gripped North Carolina in late 2007 and early 2008, local water consumption has dropped, Buchan said. Last year, usage was down 7 percent from 2007 levels, he said, and the water level in Falls Lake, the city's primary reservoir, is now about a foot above a full pool.

The Public Utilities Department is funded primarily by water and sewer usage fees, so when consumption drops, revenue dries up.

"When you have it, you want people to use it, as long as they use it efficiently, so we can meet the revenue goals," Buchan said.

Year-round water restrictions adopted by the City Council have kept a lid on consumption.

People with odd-numbered street addresses can water their yards on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, while those with even-numbered addresses can water on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Violators receive one warning before $50 and $200 fines are imposed for second and third offenses. A fourth violation will result in a homeowner's water being shut off.

Dick and Nancy Petty said they track rainfall at their house and cut back on water usage even more during dry conditions.

"We don't want to run out of drinking water, for one thing. It's just something that we've been on top of for a long time," Dick Petty said.

"I know that Falls Lake is great right now, but by June, who knows," Nancy Petty said.

Dick Petty said he doesn't like the idea of paying more for water because he is acting responsibly by conserving.

"Here you are trying to conserve on one hand, and they are raising your rates on the other," he said.

City officials considered delaying the opening of the new water treatment plant, Buchan said, but they decided to proceed to ensure the plant was operating properly before the city's one-year warranty on the construction expired.

"As we always say, we'd rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it," he said.

In July, the city will implement tiered water rates to begin charging people based on their usage. The City Council adopted tiered water rates two years ago, but a billing system to handle the new rate structure needed to be installed and tested.