Leader Blues

Friday, September 26, 2008

TOP STORY > >Water rates will go up for Jacksonville

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville water customers will likely be paying more for the precious natural resource in 2009. Central Arkansas Water (CAW) is proposing rate increases to its wholesale customers, of which Jacksonville Water Works is one.

Central Arkansas Water is proposing a 5.6-percent rate increase for water pumped during peak-demand hours, to go into effect the first day of 2009. Subsequent increases of 8.4 percent in 2010 and 7.8 percent in 2011 are also proposed.

Higher rate increases are proposed for water pumped during off-peak hours: 9.4 percent in 2009, 8.6 percent in 2010, and 9.0 percent in 2011.

A 90-day public-comment period on the proposed increases will end in early December, after which local officials will iron out the details about implementation.

The Jacksonville Water Com-mission at its monthly meeting on Wednesday heard the details about the proposed rate increases and why they are needed from Graham Rich, CEO of CAW. In the last three years, the cost of fuel has risen 100 percent, electrical power by 30 percent, water treatment chemicals by 60 percent, 1-inch copper pipe by 166 percent, and ductile iron pipe by 106 percent.

The last CAW rate increase was in 2005. By 2011, rates for CAW wholesale customers are predicted to have increased 27 percent in 10 years, an average of 2.7 percent annually, according to Steve Morgan, director of regionalism and future water source for CAW.

For Jacksonville water rate-payers, the proposed increases will be a continuation of a series of four annual “in-house” rate increases by Jacksonville Water Works that started in 2005.

Central Arkansas Water is also proposing a watershed-protection fee of 45 cents per standard-meter customer, to go into effect May 2009.

The amount billed to wholesale customers would be pro-rated according to the proportion of total water usage that comes from CAW.

The anticipated annual revenue of $900,000 would be used to fund the watershed-management program, and associated projects, for Lake Maumelle and Lake Winona, sources of water supplied by CAW.

Customers would not be billed the fee when the fund reached $3 million; it would resume when the fund dipped below $2 million.
In other business, the commission heard an update on the Lonoke White Project, which someday will broaden water access for Jacksonville.

The Lonoke White Public Water Authority has received a $309,000 grant and has applied for an additional $1.5 million to fund a pilot program to test a new treatment facility for Greers Ferry Lake. The program is one step towards opening up the lake as a source of water for Jacksonville and Cabot. The grant will pay for engineering and construction costs for the pilot project.

The commission voted unanimously to contract the services of Craft, Veach and Company of North Little Rock to conduct the Jacksonville Water Works’ audits for 2008 through 2010.

The firm’s proposal was $41,000 for the three-year period. Other submissions were from Ellis, Tucker & Alderidge of Cabot, for $43,220, and JPMS Cox of Little Rock, for $66,650.

According to an annual review of utility rates in metropolitan areas around the country, CAW water customers currently pay some of the lowest nationally. For 3,740 gallons, Little Rock households pay $8.64, North Little Rock households pay $8.94, and Jacksonville households pay $10.66.

By comparison, residential customers in Memphis pay $5.70, and Los Angeles households pay $27.22.