Saturday, October 5, 2013

Rural water system not looking so great as rates rise across region

Ever since I wrote this post last month about the new Ozark Mountain Regional Public Water Authority, I have been reading about water rates rising for consumers of that new water system.  A headline in the Sept. 25, 2013 issue of the Newton County Times featured this lede:
Officials with some water associations buying water from the Ozark Mountain Regional Public Water Authority report that their water systems are showing record loss of water and some say they aren't using as much water as their minimum use contracts charge.  
Before the $72 million in federal and state funding was agreed for the project, officials with each rural water association had to sign a minimum use contract.  The story discusses what is happening with the Diamond City and Valley Springs water associations, which are not using their minimum and are finding more leakage in their system than was previously there.  Some water associations have contacted the Arkansas Natural Resource Conservation SErvice (NRCS) about this issue, but state director Randy Young said the project is unlikely to garner additional state or federal funds to defray the added costs being borne by the local associations.  He indicated the issue might be revisited after a year of use.

The details in this story seem to mirror what is happening in Jasper, which is featured in a separate story headlined, "Jasper to adjust water rates."

A recent report by the Arkansas Rural Water Association shows that the City of Jasper's water system experienced a 54 percent loss in August.  To put that in perspective, anything above 15% is considered excessive.  Mayor (and water superintendent) Shane Kilgore said the city will begin the process of locating leaks by using observation meters that will be placed in key areas of the city's water system.   He noted that the regional water authority is permitting members to flush out their water lines free of charge, but only one time.  The story reports:
The city will have to increase water rates for the new water supply.  Calculations are being made, Mayor Kilgore told the council.  He said the city has 270 water meters and the rate of water use on average is about 3.2 million gallons a month.  The city's cost of producing its own water from its wells was about $9,962 per month.
Alderman Michael Thomas opined that the city should raise water rates now, and that the rates could then be lowered if the leak repairs lead to significant savings "and the city no longer treats and pumps its own water."

The board subsequently voted at is Sept. 25 meeting to raise some water rates.  The rate for the first 1000 gallons a consumer uses will be $8, with the price going up by $3.25 to $4.46 for the next 1000.  These fees "will about break even with the costs the city had in producing its own water, about $9,807/month." Alderman Thomas noted that this is first rate hike since 1993, and Alderman Eugene Davis noted Jasper still has the lowest water rates in Newton County.

In other water news, the Oct. 2, 2013 issue of the Newton County Times includes an editorial headlined, "Water:  be glad we have it at any cost."  In it, the editor notes the growing water supply problem nationally and asserts that the Ozark Mountain Regional Public Water Authority  came at a good time for the county.  All of this reminds me a headline about six weeks ago about the Wayton Water system lifting a boil order.  Those headlines have been very common in the past few years, so I'd say the county is indeed lucky to have this water supply at these reasonable costs.  

In other news generally, the Oct. 2 issue of the paper notes that the Buffalo National River is curtailing some services due to the federal government shutdown.

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