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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

ASK US: "I shut off my water. Why do I have sewer charges?"

Our Ask Us! page recently received the following email from a customer who spends several months a year out west:
I spend the winter in Arizona. I shut my water off but I still have sewer charges. Is there any way of avoiding these charges since i'm not using my water for almost 8 months?
It's a good question. The direct answer is "No," but I'll quickly follow-up by saying, "but here's what we're doing..."

First, a bit of background: For most customers, we bill based on water-meter readings (water consumption, measured in MCF which is 1,000 cubic feet or 7,480 gallons) because most water entering the home eventually exits into a sewer. A typical customer account uses 1.875 MCF per quarter, or about 14,025 gallons of water. Many customers use less than 1 MCF per quarter, but through 2011, our accounting method has assessed accounts a 1 MCF minimum charge, even when the actual metered consumption was less than 7,480 gallons. We shared some of the reasons for the minimum charge during our 2011 series of public rate meetings.

That is changing January 1, 2012 to the benefit of many small users, and even for special circumstances like our Ask Us! emailer.

As we presented last spring, our fee structure is changing in 2012, replacing the 1 MCF minimum (about $30-50, depending on your community) with a $5.85 base fee plus the actual metered-consumption charge.

Here's an example.

A small user in Cleveland, based on .63 MCF over a three-month period in 2011, would be charged for a full 1 MCF, or $44 for the quarter. Starting next year, that same customer—based on the $5.85 charge and actual consumption charges—would pay $37 per quarter. The charges will be based on actual consumption, rather than the 1 MCF minimum.

And that example doesn't even take our expanded cost-saving programs into account.

The 1 MCF minimum charge had been a significant challenge for many customers. As we reviewed our rate options last year, eliminating this charge and instituting a base fee was an opportunity to serve our customers while enabling us to meet the funding challenges ahead.


  1. So I still don't understand the logic and fairness of billing a household for unused water and thus unused sewer. If the water and sewer is based on the water in - water out, than there should be no bill at all. And why should I be charged for more water than I've used as a one-person homeowner who tries to conserve water? It sounds like just one more reason to move away completely, rather than seasonally.

  2. @anonymous: Thanks for your comment. Your concern reflects those of customers across our service area, which is a main reason behind the changes you'll see in 2012 and beyond. As this story indicates, the new fee structure eliminates this minimum charge, and that change alone will benefit many small users.


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