Thursday, November 8, 2018

Water Rates Increase Unevenly in the Region

Most water and sewer utilities in our region are a separate, government enterprise fund established to be self-supporting. That means that the majority of their revenue is from charges for services provided to customers, including service charges, account charges, new connection charges and the charges for water and sewage by the gallon. These charges, both variable and fixed, are to cover the costs of renewing the buried pipes and distribution networks as well as the costs to operate and maintain the treatment plants.

Recently, Fairfax Water announced its intention to raise their water rates next spring. There will be a public hearing on Thursday, December 13, 2018, on the proposed rate increase held at Fairfax Water’s main office at 8570 Executive Park Avenue in Fairfax. This rate increase is part of their ongoing program to ensure that the water infrastructure in Fairfax County is maintained. The proposed rate increase will go into effect April 1. 2019.

The need for infrastructure replacement is an issue that has caused significant service problems and rate increases in other parts of the Washington Metropolitan region. Fairfax Water Board of Directors have dedicated funding to infrastructure maintenance and replacement for many years, and has forecast future capital needs for replacing water mains in the system. In addition, Fairfax Water is planning for additional water storage within their system by developing the Vulcan Quarry as a reservoir.

As they do every time they propose to raise water rates, Fairfax Water performed a comparison of the water costs throughout the Washington Metropolitan region. This comparison is based on rates as of July 1, 2018 and on 18,000 gallons of residential water use for an established account over a three month period. I also compared these rates to the comparison that was done in 2017.


Manassas Park continues to have the highest rates in the region, despite not have raised their rates last year. Manassas Park is a small utility system with fewer than 5,000 customers. In addition, tucked into that overhead is debt service for the city’s Enterprise Fund. Manassas Park is responsible for paying City utility bonds, and also to make the annual principal and interest payments on the bonds sold to build the City Schools, Police Station, and Fire Station & Community Center. While diverting water funds to other city needs, Manassas Park failed to properly maintain their water distribution system.

Water rates in Prince William from both the Service Authority and Virginia American Water have not increased in the past year and due to the method of calculating rates for comparison appear to have fallen slightly for Virginia American Water. The City of Manassas had a significant increase in rates as did the Town of Leesburg and Arlington. Customers should track their water utility to verify that rate increases are being appropriately applied to maintaining the infrastructure and operations and are not being diverted to other purposes as happened in Manassas Park. 

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