Search online for ways to lower your water bill and you’ll find suggestions to keep an eye out for leaks and drips, install low-flow toilets, add aerators to your faucets, upgrade appliances, and take shorter showers. And while that may lower your cost for water, it doesn’t translate into lower costs for your water provider, and because their costs are going up, so will yours.
A USA Today study of residential water rates over the past 12 years for large and small water agencies nationwide found they are continuing to rise, even doubling in many localities. That’s because reduced water usage doesn’t mean pipes won’t have to be replaced or sewage treatment plants upgraded, and such is the case for Kingsport.
Due to flat revenues, federal regulations and an aging infrastructure, Kingsport water and sewer customers can probably expect to see their utility bills increase in 2022, according to Deputy City Manager Ryan McReynolds in a recent update for the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.
A common theme throughout Tennessee and utilities in general is flat revenue over the years, a regulatory environment, and the age of the infrastructure. As new houses replace old ones and inefficient sinks, showers and toilets are replaced with more efficient ones, the result is less water being used by consumers, which means lower revenue for the municipality.
“Revenue is driven by what goes through your meter,” McReynolds said. “From an environmental, water conservation stand that’s fabulous, but it has reduced usage, which definitely flattened the revenue.”
According to a study on Kingsport’s utilities, the city is expected to see little to no growth in water consumption in the coming years.
Meanwhile, it projects a 2.1% increase in water expenses and a 4.2% growth in sewer costs. Over the next five years, capital improvements for both systems are estimated to cost $34.4 million for water and $54.8 million for sewer.
Over the years Kingsport has absorbed a number of utility districts, and along with its original aging water and sewer system, those systems also have to be upgraded and maintained. It’s basically getting to the point where much of the old infrastructure is well past its useful life, McReynolds said.
“Over time there’s also been increased regulatory demands,” he noted. “By nature, it typically costs money to respond to the new regulations.”
And so, rate increases are coming, says McReynolds. While using less water may save you some money, you’re still going to pay higher rates, and there’s no flushing that down the drain.