Water rates on the rise again

Program calls for hikes every 2 years

RIO HONDO — For the second time in about 18 months, more than 8,000 area families will see bigger water bills to help fund a series of projects.

The East Rio Hondo Water Supply Corp. is boosting its average monthly bill by about $5 a month as part of a plan to increase rates about every two years, Brian Macmanus, the utility’s general manager, said yesterday.

Macmanus said the rate increase effective Oct. 30 will add about $510,000 a year to the agency’s annual $7.1 million budget.

As the result of a new rate study, the utility’s 8,100 metered customers and 850 wholesale buyers can expect “a rate increase every two years of some sort,” Macmanus said.

“If a utility is run properly, you’re going to have systematic rate increases just to keep up with inflation,” he said. “We want to make sure our customers have good water quality, good pressure and a water supply to get us 40 years down the road.”

About 18 months ago, the utility boosted its average monthly bill by about $2.50.

Across a 409-square-mile area, the utility serves about 19 metered homes and businesses per mile of pipeline, while urban systems serve more than 200 customers per mile of pipe.

“It’s much more costly to operate a rural, spread-out system than an urban, condensed system,” Macmanus said.

“Economies of scale don’t match up between dense, urban developments and rural systems. Without rural systems, though, quality water would never have been available in the country,” he said, noting area residents relied on brackish well water and canal water before the utility launched its first operations in 1981.

The new rate study recommended the utility boost its rates to help fund projects and pay off long-term debt.

“The ERHWSC board of directors is very conscientious of the need to minimize the expense for water and wastewater service for all ERHWSC members,” the utility states in a press release. “They realize that no one likes to pay more for any product or service. The largest factor in driving the need for additional revenue is capital construction projects and water rights purchases.”

Water plant disinfection system

Major projects include a $1.3 million project to install an ultraviolet disinfection system at the Martha Ann Simpson Water Treatment Plant.

The utility is funding the project with a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant requiring the agency to pay 71 percent of the total cost through a low-interest loan.

The system provides the most cost-effective federally mandated treatment for cryptosporidium, a parasite found in the Rio Grande’s water, the press release states.

Connection with Harlingen water supply

In 2017, the utility completed a $2.4 million project to connect its water supply with the Harlingen WaterWorks System to provide a secondary water source.

The utility funded the project through a Texas Water Development Board grant requiring the agency to pay 70 percent of the total cost through a low-interest low.

As part of an agreement with the North Cameron Regional Water Supply Corp., the project provides the utility with 3.27 million gallons per day to serve as a back-up source for water plants along the Arroyo Colorado’s eastern side.

“With these alternative sources, ERHWSC is more certain to have water, even during severe drought conditions,” the press release states.

Transmission main line

The utility also installed a 16-inch transmission main line to directly deliver water derived from alternative sources from the arroyo’s west side to its east side.

The utility funded the $1.37 million project through a USDA grant requiring the agency to pay 64.5 percent of the total cost through a low-interest loan.

Filtration system rehab

The utility is also planning using cash reserves to fund a $1.4 million project to rehabilitate the Martha Ann Simpson Water Treatment Plant’s filtration process to meet regulatory standards.

Water rights

Meanwhile, the utility plans to purchase more water rights.

“Without the acquisition of additional water rights, ERHWSC’s system growth and future droughts could result in insufficient water for the corporation members,” the press release states.