Houston water, wastewater proposed increase: This is what Mayor Sylvester Turner wants you to know

Generic image of a sink.
Generic image of a sink. (Pixabay)

HOUSTON – Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner’s Office sent out a news release with a letter about the proposed City of Houston water and wastewater rate increase.

Here’s Turner’s letter in full:

“Dear Houstonians, I encourage you to read the following information to stay informed about the water infrastructure needs of our city. Next Wednesday, June 23, Houston City Council will vote on water and wastewater rate increases for Houston water customers. Houston Public Works is recommending that City Council adopt updates for water and wastewater rates to cover the increasing cost of service. The proposed water and wastewater rates will increase every year over the next five years and include the cost of making the first five years of investments agreed upon in the Consent Decree agreement with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and the EPA. Because of the agreement, Houston is required to resolve sanitary sewer overflows and other wastewater violations by paying fines and making improvements to the wastewater system over the next 15 years. Read more about the Consent Decree here.” 

“Houston’s wastewater system is one of the largest and most comprehensive in the nation, with approximately 6,000 miles of wastewater pipes, 382 lift stations to move waste due to Houston’s flat topography, and 39 wastewater treatment plants. Click here to ready frequently asked questions and answers.”

“Sincerely, Mayor Sylvester Turner”

Mayor Sylvester Turner selected as the new president of the African American Mayors Association, an organization that represents over 500 African American mayors across the United States. (KPRC)

Editor’s note: In addition to the letter, Turner’s office shared a question and answer about what it says will happen. Here are those questions and answers, as provided by the mayor’s office.

HOW WILL WATER & WASTEWATER RATES HELP MAKE HOUSTON MORE RESILIENT?

Building a more resilient Houston is a goal that all Houstonians share. After Hurricane Harvey, Winter Storm Uri and COVID-19, the importance of a resilient water and wastewater system is clear.

WHAT ARE WATER & WASTEWATER RATES?

Water and wastewater rates are the charges paid every month on utility bills that pay for water & wastewater plants, pipes, and people needed to produce and deliver clean water and to carry away and treat wastewater.

WHY ARE WATER & WASTEWATER RATE UPDATES RECOMMENDED?

Houston Water has proposed rates that satisfy legal requirements and reflect the cost of service for each type of customer, like single family or industrial, while ensuring everyone pays their fair share.

WHAT WILL WATER & WASTEWATER RATE UPDATES PAY FOR?

− resources to continue water & wastewater services

− maintenance of water & wastewater infrastructure

− reduced water main breaks

− reduced sanitary sewer overflows

− improved resilience against hurricanes, freezes & climate change

− ability to comply with the Consent Decree

− ability to comply with federal regulations rather than pay penalties for violations caused by lack of investment

HOW WILL WATER & WASTEWATER BILLS CHANGE?

Nearly 60% of single-family residential customers may have a $5 or less increase on their July bill. Some bills may go down. Houston’s water & wastewater rates will remain among the lowest of other major cities, even with proposed increases. On page 2, is a sample utility bill and a comparison of utility bill amounts with other major cities.

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ANNUAL AUTOMATIC ADJUSTMENTS & THE PROPOSED WATER & WASTEWATER RATE UPDATE?

The annual automatic adjustment is required by bond holders and partially addresses the rising cost of running Houston Water. The proposed rate updates also address the rising cost of service, including maintaining, replacing, and upgrading aging infrastructure, paying debts, and maintaining reserves. Houston last increased water and wastewater rates beyond the automatic annual rate adjustments in 2010. The City’s ordinance related to the automatic adjustments requires rates be adjusted annually based on numbers provided by the US Bureau of Labor & Statistics. Historically, it ranges from .03% to 4.40%. The proposed rates do not include the annual automatic adjustment.

IS ASSISTANCE AVAILABLE FOR CUSTOMERS WHO CANNOT AFFORD TO PAY THEIR BILLS?

Customer Account Services offers several resources for customers who need assistance: − the W.A.T.E.R. Fund (Water Aid To Elderly Residents) − a list of local agencies that can help − interest free payment agreements − adjustments are available for certain unexpected high bills received by the customer

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Visit houstontx.gov/citysec or email publicworks@houstontx.gov.


About the Author:

Amanda Cochran is an Edward R. Murrow award-winning journalist. She specializes in Texas features, social media news and local crime.