Water Industry News
Norman, Oklahoma to
vote on 85% water rte increase
The Norman Transcript
March 05, 2006
Norman voters go to the polls Tuesday to decide whether to increase water
rates, the first raise in about 10 years.
The proposed increase would fund about $44 million for maintenance of the
water treatment system and unfunded federal mandates.
City staff has said the raise would fund about five years of maintenance
Norman is the only city in the state where voters have to approve utility
rate increases. City councils are responsible for rate increases in other
"Having that power to approve rates increase puts a responsibility on
voters," said Ward 1 councilmember Bob Thompson at a ward meeting
last week. "You have to be willing to step up to the plate and give
yourself an increase when it's needed."
About $11 million would replace 15 wells knocked offline for exceeding the
Environmental Protection Agency's limit of 10 parts per billion of
naturally occurring arsenic from the Garber-Wellington Aquifer.
The new wells would be located farther east where arsenic levels have been
shown to be lower. Test wells have been drilled to ensure levels are
within the required parameters.
Capital projects engineer Bryan Mitchell said private well owners should
not be affected by the city's new wells. Private wells are typically
drilled about 100 to 200 feet, with production wells at about 700 feet.
The city's wells will be encased for the first 200 feet.
"We're doing this so we don't have interface between private wells
and production wells," Mitchell said.
The rate increase includes 15 cents to eliminate taste and odor issues.
Maintenance projects would include:
1) Painting of all the water storage tanks;
2) $100,000 per year for five years for "Hot Soil" replacement
3) Initiating a meter replacement program;
4) Enlargement of 1.5 million feet of raw water line from Lake Thunderbird to
the Water Treatment Plant and addition of a clarifier at the WTP;
5) Several WTP Projects, including replacing filter media, sludge disposal,
emergency generator, replace lime slakers, additional control systems,
pre-disinfection as required by the Oklahoma Department of Environmental
Quality and EPA.
6) Three to four projects per year for the "Urban Service Area Water
7) Some portion of three of the water lines recommended in the Water
The projects honed down from about $100 million in water system needs
identified by city staff.
"(The water rate increase) doesn't answer everything, but it's a good
starting place," said Ward 5 councilmember Rachel Butler.
The rates also do not include continued capital projects for maintenance,
inflationary trends or new required regulations after five years.
Butler said the taste-and-odor solution may help the city deal with future
federal regulations in the works.
The proposed rates compare to other similarly sized cities favorably. The
average 10,000-gallon per month household would be about $24.50 per month,
compared to the current $13.36.
About 80 percent of Norman customers use 10,000 gallons or less per month.
Costs for the same 10,000-gallon user would be: Edmond, $37.97; Denton,
Texas, $35.55; Moore, $29.90; Midwest City, $29.13; Lawrence, Kan.,
$28.65; Oklahoma City, $27.25; Lawton, $26.17; Broken Arrow, $24.60;
Tulsa, $23.65; and Enid, $18.43.
The city's water system is run from an enterprise fund, which uses water
revenues to pay for its water system.
"I like that our wastewater, water, etc. are enterprise funds,"
said Ken Komiske, utilities director at the ward meeting. "You use
it, you pay for it."
In 1999, the city implemented an inverted rate structure to encourage
conservation, with higher users paying higher water rates.
In 2000, residents used an average of 136 gallons per person per day, with
it rising to 142 gallons average in 2001.
But since that time, usage has steadily dropped.
In 2002, residents used 138 gallons per person; 2003, 134 gallons; and
2004, 133 gallons.
Low-income water customers' base fee would be reduced 25 percent, similar
to what the city does currently for low-income sanitation customers.
Low income would be as defined by the Housing and Community Development
Act. About 1,035 sanitation customers take advantage of the reduced rate.
A charter revision change, which would not be on this ballot, would
require a review of at least one of the three utility enterprise funds
every three years to assess whether costs were in line with rates. The
change would be included in a future municipal election.
"It would force the council to address it, but it leaves us as
citizens still in control of our own decisions," Thompson said.
"I hope this is our last dramatic increase."