Water and sewer customers around Lake Whatcom are facing substantial rate increases over the next few years as their provider seeks to fund major infrastructure work.
Letters mailed to Lake Whatcom Water and Sewer District customers this week describe a five-year billing plan that water district General Manager Patrick Sorensen said accounts for the rising cost of water and sewer access and will fund projects mostly in the Geneva area.
Such long-range plans are required by the state, and an outside consultant was hired to look at service and pricing for the nonprofit water district, which serves about 4,000 customers.
"The bigger issue, particularly on the water side, is the need for some capital improvements," Sorensen said.
The elected water district board is looking to fund a $2.5 million project to replace old water mains in the Geneva area and to build a new water storage tank. Sorensen said the tank will ensure adequate water pressure for both daily use and for firefighting operations.
He said it was prudent to address the water mains and storage now, so the district can borrow money while interest rates remain relatively low.
Recommendations are for sewer rates to rise from the current two-month flat rate of $141.43, to $148.03 next year, an increase of 4.7 percent. After that, rates would rise 2.5 percent per year through 2019, with a proposed sewer rate of $163.40 every two months by that year.
For water, the $50.05 bimonthly bill would rise to $52.68, a 5.25 percent increase.
Under the proposed structure, base water rates would jump more than 8 percent each of the next three years, and then 4 percent in 2019, when they would hit $70.31.
The proposed five-year plan calls for establishing a new discount rate for senior citizens and low-income people.
It also would create a "conservation block rate" that charges more to customers who use more than 2,500 cubic feet (or 18,700 gallons) of water every two months.
That two-month "conservation block rate" would be $9.35 for every 100 cubic feet (748 gallons) over 2,500 cubic feet of use next year, rising to $12.48 in 2019.
That's in addition to the current overage charge of $6.32 for every 100 cubic feet of water used above 600 cubic feet.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the average American family uses about 18,000 to 24,000 gallons of water in two months. The EPA doesn't define the average family.
Customers are invited to the session where board members are being asked to consider the rate request at 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 29, in the Lake Whatcom Water and Sewer District office.
Sorensen agreed that the proposed increases are steep.
"Lake Whatcom is not a cheap place to drink water from" because of conservation measures aimed at preserving the watershed, he said.
Other factors driving higher water rates are the district's small size, and that it serves the mostly residential area of Geneva, Sudden Valley and Lake Whatcom's north shore. It also has few commercial and no industrial customers.
Contact Robert Mittendorf at 360-756-2805 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When: 7 p.m. July 29
Where: Lake Whatcom Water and Sewer District office, 1220 Lakeway Drive, across from the Civic Athletic Complex.
Details: 360-734-9224, lwwsd.org.