NEWS HEADLINES

Water suppliers watching use, rates

By Bob Buckel | Published Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Rainfall in July was up, temperatures were down and water use continued to shrink as residents buy into the need to conserve water.

That scenario presents cities and utility districts with some unique challenges.

Looking for the Big Ones

LOOKING FOR THE BIG ONES – A fisherman plies the waters just below the dam at Lake Bridgeport, surrounded by the circles of turbulence created by aerators put in to improve water quality around the water intakes placed in the deepest part of the lake. Messenger photo by Bob Buckel

For Walnut Creek Special Utility District, the biggest challenge is getting the water it needs to serve its 6,000 or so customers.

The Springtown-based utility is currently working on a project with Brazos Electric to move its intake structure about 150 feet further out in the lake, into deeper water.

“If the lake gets another two or three feet low, the existing pump station probably won’t be able to pick up water,” General Manager Jerry Holsomback said. “There’s plenty of water in the lake. We just have to get out further.”

Several Metroplex cities, including Fort Worth, have announced plans to raise rates, as the success of conservation efforts has put them in a financial hole.

Tarrant Regional Water District, meanwhile, has just announced another 12.5-cent hike in raw water costs to its customers – everyone who draws water out of Lake Bridgeport.

Holsomback said Walnut Creek isn’t planning on adjusting rates anytime soon.

“It’ll probably be the first of the year when we do our budgeting that we’ll look at maybe raising it a little,” he said. “We’re doing OK for now.”

He said water use is down about 10 percent – welcome relief for a utility that is operating at close to capacity.

BRIDGEPORT TO HOLD THE LINE

In Bridgeport, City Administrator Brandon Emmons said water use is down about 8 percent – something he attributed to both conservation and the cooler, wetter summer – but the city has no plans to raise water rates for its customers.

“This has not had a significant impact on our operations,” he said. “When our revenues are reduced from lower than normal water sales, our expenses are also reduced proportionately. A large portion of our water rates are comprised of a combination of wholesale costs and treatment expenses.”

Emmons said the city has adjusted its projected expenses as a result of the increased TRWD price for raw water.

“We will not be increasing our retail water rates this year as a result of the increased costs associated with providing water to our customers,” he said. “We have achieved increased operational efficiencies that will offset these new expenses.”

DECATUR LOOKING AT A RATE HIKE

In Decatur, fixed expenses and the increased cost of raw water will prompt another rate increase in this year’s budget.

It’s not so much because of lower use – although Decatur’s raw water use has been down every month this year compared to 2013 – but because of increases in raw water and electricity costs.

The city had been paying just over 97 cents per thousand gallons for raw water out of Lake Bridgeport until May – about $45,000 month. The city council approved an $8,000-a-month bump in the city’s payment to Wise County Water Supply District for June, July, August and September, and will budget an addition $4,000 a month for fiscal 2014-15, which begins in October.

On top of that, electricity costs are going up just more than 8 percent – another $51,000 hit.

City Manager Brett Shannon said the water fund has to balance income and expenses. It’s not run to make a profit, but it can’t operate at a deficit for long.

“The hardest part, for everybody – we get in a drought and you ask people to conserve water, and they do that, and then you raise the rates,” he said. “That rubs some people the wrong way. But if it’s taking this many dollars to provide the service, and we’re only getting this many dollars, we can’t do that.”

Lake Bridgeport remains about 41 percent full, a little more than 22 feet below its normal conservation level.

TRWD has not released water from the lake since last June, and having only one 100-degree day in July certainly helped slow the drop in water level.

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