Commissioners raise rates for Water District 19 customers

The district needs to tend to its ailing infrastructure, according to officials.

The three commissioners of Water District 19 approved a rate increase in December intended to bring in 20 percent more revenue annually to the district beginning Feb. 1.

The new rates include a 10 percent increase in the base rate and a 40 percent increase in the per-gallon charges to meet the 20 percent goal, according to Chair Bob Powell.

Commissioners have not raised rates for eight years, and the district, which has nearly 1,500 accounts and serves Vashon’s downtown business district as well as the public schools, needs to tend to its ailing infrastructure, according to officials there. Over the next 10 years, the district is expected to complete $8 million worth of capital projects.

General Manager Jim McRae said the rate increase will not affect all customers equally and will impact those who are conservative with their water usage less. Thrifty customers, he said, will likely see their bills increase by 5 percent, while the bills for customers who use a moderate amount of water (800 cubic feet over a two-month billing cycle) will likely increase about 10 percent.

The previous standard base rate was $65 and now is $70, district rate sheets show. Similarly, water usage rates have increased. Residential rates, per 100 cubic feet used, range from zero for extremely minimal usage to $9. This compares to the previous range of $1.58 to $6.88. Similarly, commercial rates per 100 cubic feet used, range from $2.50 to $6.40, compared to the previous rates of $1.80 to $4.54.

Powell recently noted that for a long time, the priority of the board was to keep rates as low as possible and defer longterm maintenance. Just in the last eight years, the district has begun to replace leaky and defective pipes, but that work has not been sufficient .

“The rate at which we were doing it, it would take 100 years to replace the pipes we knew needed to be replaced,” he said.

He added that allocating $100,000 per year in the budget was not enough to keep up with the degradation of the pipes in the ground. The accepted norm of water loss through leaks is 5 to 10 percent. But the district exceeds that, losing 14 percent of its water through leaks in its system.

“That is enough water to serve approx 250 customers in single family homes or … more apartments,” he said.

In fact, the infrastructure work the district intends to do should be sufficient to serve all the customers on the district’s waiting list, and likely many more, he added.

Powell also said that the most frequent complaint he has heard during his tenure with the district is about brown water. The planned work should dramatically reduce those occurrences, he said.

— Susan Riemer

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