Area water usage up; rate impact uncertain

by The City Wire staff (info@thecitywire.com) 46 views 

Fort Smith area water usage is up for the first two months of 2011, but it’s too early to know if the increase reflects complete consumer reaction to a 5% rate increase that took effect Jan. 1.

During a Dec. 7 board meeting, a 5% water rate increase was approved in a 5-2 vote to help cover cover a 110% debt covenant threshold on about $15 million in debt service requirements. Estimates provided by Parke said the 5% increases would result in a monthly increase of $1.40 for water and sewer use of 5 ccf (each); a monthly increase of $3.02 for 10 ccf; and a $6.31 monthly increase for 20 ccf.

Preliminary estimates from an ongoing review of water and sewer rates combined with needed system improvements suggest a 5% water rate increase in 2011 and another 5% increase in 2012.

Usage for January and February totaled 1.66 million ccf, up 2.6% over the same period in 2010, and up 0.74% over 2009. The last time water usage was as high was the January-February 2007 period — 1.674 million ccf.

Fort Smith Director of Utilities Steve Parke said most water users have only seen one bill with the increase, which makes it impossible to comment on trends. He said elective water usage — sprinkler systems, swimming pools, car washes, etc. — trends don’t show up until the summer months.

“We really need to see a few more data points. As the temperatures warm up, the question is will we still see these trends with elective use,” Parke explained.

Parke also said he has not analyzed the customer classes to see the source of water usage increases. He said water usage changes with just a few industrial users can swing the numbers.

“Let’s hope that maybe someone has boosted their production numbers,” Parke said of the industrial users.

Water usage and revenue for March may top March 2010 figures, also. For the measuring week ended Mar. 3, water demand was 26.4 million gallons, up from 22.1 million for the same period in 2010. For the measuring week ended Mar. 10, water demand was 25.5 million, up from the 21.2 million during the same period in 2010.

For all of 2010, water usage totaled 11.15 million ccf, up 9.9% compared to 2009. The 2010 water usage ended a decline that began following 2006 when usage totaled 11.718 million ccf.

Revenue from water sales in 2010 totaled $25.667 million, up 9.58% over 2009 revenue of $23.421 million.

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