Water conservation

Without essential context, the comparison of local public services is misleading


An Oct. 23 opinion piece by Gordie Brenne (“Another rate hike won’t solve WSSC’s structural problems”) questioning WSSC Water’s need for a 9% rate hike selectively pulled information from a survey comparing WSSC Water to regional utilities, including Bowie, Rockville, DC Water, Fairfax County Wastewater and Fairfax Water.

Every utility is unique and the questionable survey was flawed from the start as it compares WSSC Water to much smaller utilities, not utilities of the same size and operational scope. Let me put this survey in context and explain why we are demanding this level of rate increase.

With over 11,000 miles of water and sewer lines spanning an area of ​​1,000 square miles serving 1.8 million customers in Montgomery and Prince George counties, WSSC Water is one of the largest utilities of water and wastewater in the country and much larger than other utilities. interrogates.

For example, WSSC Water is twice the size of Fairfax Water, our system is much older, and we serve many more customers. Additionally, Fairfax Water only provides water, not sewer service.

On the sewer side, Fairfax County’s wastewater is also smaller and does not provide potable water. In addition, our service area is also much larger than that of DC Water and, unlike WSSC Water, it does not treat its own drinking water. (See pages 1 to 5 of a Comparative survey on regional public services.)

Brenne begins her article by stating that WSSC Water has deviated from cost-cutting measures. Nothing could be further from the truth.

To compensate for approximately $ 130 million in lost revenue from COVID-19, we have reduced by more than $ 130 million of the last two budgets (see p. 25) and recently reduced by $ 20 million our current budget (see p. 136).

In addition, we have not granted any increases or adjustments to the cost of living to employees in the past two years.

Brenne was correct in saying that Montgomery and Prince George County Councils have approved rate increases for WSSC Water since 2005. What he may not realize is that WSSC Water is experiencing a tendency to decline. long-term decline in water use – requiring rate increases to keep pace with rising costs and service demands.

Despite a growing population in the counties we serve, our customers’ water use has declined by nearly 6% in 20 years due to efforts to conserve water and low-flow toilets and fixtures. While this is great for the environment, it has had a negative impact on our finances.

Regarding prices, it should be noted that the average increase in our bill from 2000 to 2022 is lower than the American average and much lower than many other regional water utilities (see p. 30), including DC Water, Fairfax, Baltimore, Bowie and Rockville.

In addition, the process for determining our rates was established in 1994 by the two county councils and involves a thorough review of our finances. This comprehensive analysis includes revenue and expenditure projections, debt service, new debt, and total water and sewer operating expenses.

If you want to compare us to local utilities, a good metric to use is how our quarterly bills compare to other regional water utilities.

For a typical three-person household using 165 gallons per day, WSSC Water ($ 241) is lower than Baltimore ($ 406) and DC Water ($ 398) and comparable to Fairfax ($ 219). WSSC Water also has the lowest fixed costs of the four utilities (see p. 21).

Another good comparison is to watch the number of employees we have (1,695) in relation to the miles of water and sewer lines we maintain (11,454 miles). DC Water has 1,109 employees but only 3,100 miles of pipelines (see pages 1 to 5). This means that we have approximately 148 employees per 1,000 miles of pipe, while DC Water has approximately 358 employees per 1,000 miles of pipe.

What we can agree with Brenne on is the fact that we are facing serious financial challenges due to COVID-19, which is exactly why we are looking for a 9% rate hike. .

One in five WSSC Water customers is behind on their bills due to this global health and financial crisis. This is equivalent to over 90,000 overdue accounts totaling nearly $ 70 million in potential revenue (see p. 24). And despite repeated requests for direct assistance, we have yet to receive county, state, or federal government funds to help our customers in need pay off their outstanding balances.

Since 1918, WSSC Water has proudly provided high quality drinking water to residents and businesses in both counties and safely returned clean water to the environment. Over 100 years later, we remain committed to protecting public health and safety and providing our valued customers with safe, clean and reliable water.

The fact that we have fulfilled this mission of sanitation for over a century without a single violation of drinking water quality is a testament to the dedication of our employees and our fiduciary responsibility.

Carla A. Reid is the Managing Director / CEO of WSSC Water.

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