The next time you read about a water main break — you probably won’t have to wait very long, unfortunately — have a little sympathy for the Board of Water Supply, which gave final approval to raising water rates each year between July 1, 2019, and July 1, 2022. The BWS says it needs the money to replace miles of old pipes and to subsidize service to affordable and homeless housing.
There’s little argument about the need. And there’s no question about who must pay: BWS relies on customer charges to pay all expenses related to system upkeep.
BWS estimates it must spend $5.3 billion over the next 30 years to finance more than 300 projects. The rate increases should add about $60 million over five years toward that goal.
The plan sounds reasonable enough: It applies the rate increases gradually, and keeps costs stable for those who use the least amount of water.
Previously, BWS got into some hot water, so to speak, when it launched a new customer care and billing system that caught customers off-guard with big spikes in their water bills that were poorly explained. This time, customers need to see that the billing system is accurate and fair.
They also need to see tangible progress: BWS must demonstrate it can maintain its ambitious goal of replacing 21 miles of pipe annually, rather than just the current six.
Every water main break reminds us that there’s still much work to be done. Customers who are paying more will expect more.