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Friday, September 28, 2012

Atlanta's water rates have spiked 233 percent since 2001 (Update)

Atlanta water treatment plant
  • CL File
  • Atlanta water treatment plant

USA Today released a study last night that examines the residential water rates of 100 municipalities across the country. According to their findings, Atlanta ranked atop those cities, claiming the largest spike in rates over the past 12 years.

While more than a quarter of those municipalities have seen their water bills double since 2001, Atlanta's rates grew by approximately 233 percent. That echoes what the City of Atlanta's audit — released earlier this week — stated regarding ratepayer costs, which have increased 81 percent since 2008.

In addition, USA Today also notes that the City of Atlanta's rates — measured by monthly usage of 1,000 cubic feet of water — can be partially attributed to $1.3 billion spent on improvements to the city's water supply system in order to remain complaint with federal mandates. This includes, as Thomas Wheatley pointed out, sewer work that is expected to continue through 2027 — thanks to the 13-year extension that the city received.

According the AJC, city officials expect to maintain currents water rates through at least 2016 — preferring to not lower costs with more upgrades and repairs on the horizon. The audit also disclosed that Atlanta may have up to 10,000 faulty water meters — approximately six percent of the city's 158,129 meters.

We reached out again to the city's watershed department for its response. We'll update once we know more. Meanwhile, you can read the full audit — costing the city a modest sum of $2 millionhere.

UPDATE, 12:53 p.m.: The are two separate audits here. The small meter audit cost the city $2.4 million, which determined that approximately six percent of the city's meters were faulty. The second audit is the one linked to in the above paragraph.

In addition, we've been told that the watershed department is working on a response statement, which we'll share once we receive that.

UPDATE, 6:15 p.m.: Janet Ward, Public Relations Manager at the Department of Watershed Management, sent CL the following statement:

Atlanta’s rates are driven by a $3.2 billion federally mandated overhaul of our water and sewer infrastructure. Atlanta is continuing to improve its water and wastewater systems and encouraging its customers to conserve. The City’s ratepayers understand that clean water isn’t free. They have shouldered the burden of the steepest rate increases in the nation over the last 12 years and voted overwhelmingly three times in the last eight years to impose upon themselves a 1 percent sales tax dedicated to investments in water and sewer infrastructure. In recognition of Atlanta’s continued commitment to clean water, the United States District court recently granted an amendment to the First Amended Consent Decree that is designed to allow the City to stabilize its rates and ensure that Atlanta continues to meet its obligations under state and federal clean water laws.

Water infrastructure across the country is aging and in need of replacement/repair. The American Society of Civil Engineers’ Infrastructure Report Card issued in 2009 gave America’s water and wastewater infrastructure a D-. It noted that drinking water systems face an annual shortfall of at least $11 billion in funding needed to replace aging facilities and comply with existing and future federal water regulations. On the wastewater side, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the nation must invest about $400 billion over the next 20 years to upgrade or replace existing systems and build new ones to meet increasing demand.

Water has traditionally been undervalued as a resource. Americans take for granted that when they turn on the tap, the water that comes out will not make them sick, and when they flush the toilet, the waste will be disposed of in an environmentally sound manner that protects the public health. About 1 billion people worldwide do not have access to clean water, and 2.5 billion, including 1 billion children, do not have access to basic sanitation, and thus cannot make that leap of faith.

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