Rowlett Citizens Join Water Rate Fight

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A water fight is heating up as citizens jump on board with leaders of several North Texas cities who argue they’re paying for more water than they use.

An online petition posted Thursday garnered more than 900 signatures trhSaturday night.

The petition request that the Public Utility Commission of Texas review the “Take or Pay” contract North Texas Municipal Water District member cities agreed on years ago.

“The problem we have in Rowlett is that the 'Take or Pay' system charges you according to your highest historical water usage,” the petition’s organizer Brian Galuardi said.

He argued cities that developed early on are paying higher rates based on years of drought. He said thanks to improved conservation, they’ve lessened use, but only cities that boomed later pay less.

“The current structure does not encourage conservation. Rowlett is paying for water we are not using,” Galuardi said.

It was a sentiment shared by Rowlett Mayor Tammy Dana-Bashian earlier this week in a letter to the Public Utility Commission.

As the district’s largest customer city, she said they’d be joining member cities Garland, Mesquite, Plano and Richardson to urge the Commission to hold a hearing about the current rate system.

The North Texas Municipal Water District released the following statement.

The cities are not simply paying for water. Rather, they each pay a share of the regional system costs and their percent share of the critical investments in the system that are needed to continue providing safe, reliable water for the communities the system serves. Those infrastructure costs have been increasing to keep up with growth in our region and aging infrastructure. This is not a dispute between NTMWD and the four petitioning cities. This is a dispute between the 13 Member Cities on the existing contract for sharing the costs of the regional water system. NTMWD has been supporting discussions among the Member Cities about a potential change to the contract structure. The District is open to a contract change as long as all 13 Member Cities agree with the change and adequate funding is available to cover the costs to maintain, operate and expand the regional system the cities share and to cover any debt costs. Water rates pay for much #MoreThanWater.

While "paying for water not used" is a catchy phrase, it's just not accurate. What customers are really paying for is each city's share of the reservoirs, treatment plants, miles of pipeline, pumps, and laboratory to constantly test your water to make it safe. All those things must be funded and kept in good working condition regardless of how much water is used. Over the last decade, NTMWD has invested $2.9 billion in the water system that the cities share. This includes over $300 million to regain access to Texoma water due to zebra mussels and federal regulations, $130 million for ozone technology at all 6 water treatment plants which improved water quality, millions in upgrades to 1950s-era equipment and filters to improve water treatment, and the new $1.6-billion reservoir, 60-miles of pipeline and new treatment plant in Fannin County to make sure our communities have enough water the next time a drought hits our region. These have fixed costs regardless of the amount of "water used." Each city's contractual obligation = their percent share of the regional water system. If some cities get their percent share reduced, other cities have to pick up a greater share of the costs.

Galuardi said he agreed that investment in the system was important.

Still, he’s hopeful the Public Utility Commission will agree to review the current contract and find a more efficient and equitable way.

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