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Questions and Answers about the Madison Water Utility's Most Recent Rate Increase
Q How much of an increase did the water utility need, and how does it affect my bill?
A The state Public Service Commission granted an increase in revenue totaling $4,798,079. The six-month water bill for the average residential customer increased by $19.76; this equates to $3.30 per month, or 11 cents more per day.
Q Why did the water utility need to raise rates?
A The utility requested an increase to cover higher operational and maintenance costs as well as significant additional capital investment, including repair and replacement of aging water mains, some of which are 100 years old and prone to breakage as the mercury drops. Planned infrastructure investments are also being driven by a renewed emphasis on water quality.
Q How do Madison’s water rates compare to other similarly sized cities?
A The average Madison customer bill is now $98.84 every six months. This is still below the statewide average, and compares favorably to many other Wisconsin cities. For example, a Menasha customer would pay $217.88 for the same amount of water; Oshkosh, $200.50; Marshfield, $157.00; Beaver Dam, $142.90; Watertown, $157.60; Green Bay, $124.00; and Racine, $125.50.
Q When will the increase show up on my water bill?
A Since we bill 1/6 of our customers every month, the rates are phased in over six months, beginning in March. Those who received their twice yearly water bill in March saw 1/6th of the increase; those who are billed in September and all customers thereafter will see the full increase.
Q It is getting harder to afford the Municipal Services Bill every six months. Are there any plans to go to monthly billing?
A Yes, as a matter of fact there are. By the end of 2012 we plan to have the entire city on an automated meter reading system and monthly water bills.
Q I’ve heard water consumption is going down. Why are rates going up?
A Many of our costs are “fixed,” in that they don’t depend on the amount of water being delivered. The network of pipes, wells, storage tanks, and pumping stations are all sized to meet the maximum possible demand, which in most cases would occur in the event of a major fire. Rates are going up not only to cover inflation in operating costs but also to service larger amounts of debt incurred to replace our aging infrastructure.
Q So I am being punished with higher rates if I conserve water?
A Not really. The increase in the price of water due to conservation is counter balanced by the reduced amount of water needed. So conservation doesn’t increase the overall cost of water, but many other factors, cited above, do. And of course conserving water will save you money compared to those customers who don’t conserve.
Q Money is tight at my house. What are some things I can do to save water and shrink my bill?
A Listen and watch for toilet leaks. A leaky toilet can waste 200 gallons per day. To test for leaks, put a coloring agent--food coloring, egg dye or other water-soluble color--in the toilet tank, and check to see whether any of the color leaks into the toilet bowl within ten minutes. Flapper replacement is the most common remedy for such leaks. Check float ball assemblies for corrosion of metal components that may prevent the shutoff of water refilling the tank so that it runs over into the overflow pipe; such leaks won't show in a dye test but can cause great water loss.
Repair leaky faucets. At one drop a second, a leaky faucet can waste more than 3,000 gallons of water in a year. Most leaks are easily repaired with basic know-how and simple tools. Good reference books and articles are available, and hardware store and home center staff can be very helpful.
Install water-saving devices: aerators in sink faucets that don’t have them, low flow showerheads, and high-efficiency toilets (HET’s). Toilets account for 1/3 of the water used in the home. See our HET rebate program for how you can get up to $100 back on an EPA WaterSense toilet). Use the most efficient settings for dishwashers and clothes washing machines. Full loads are often the most efficient. When it's time to replace appliances, consider water efficiency in your choice.
Turn off the tap when not actively rinsing (toothbrush or razor as well as in the kitchen) or washing hands.