Next week, City Council will vote on water and wastewater rate increases for Houston water customers. Every five years, the city studies our utility rates and makes a decision about whether or not to update or restructure our billing system. In 2015, during our last study, the city opted not to implement updates or changes to our water rates. This isn’t to say water rates haven’t increased — city ordinance requires the annual adjustment of water and sewer rates each year on the first of April. These adjustments are based on changes in the Annual U.S. Census Houston Population Index and the U.S. Consumer Price Index. Historically, the rate changes have ranged from .03% to 4.40% annually. The proposed rates being considered now do not include the annual automatic adjustment.
The recent study took a look at the city’s infrastructure obligations and future needs. Resilience investment is necessary to ensure Houston is prepared to meet the needs of a growing population and to face events like Winter Storm Uri. Maintenance costs for our extensive water and wastewater system have also increased since our last rate restructure. Houston Public Works (HPW) is responsible for three water plants and 7,000 miles of water lines, treating 146 billion gallons of water a day. On the wastewater side, HPW maintains 39 wastewater plants, 381 lift stations, and 6,200 miles of gravity and force mains.
Additionally, a federal judge approved an agreement (Consent Decree) between the City of Houston and the Environmental Protection Agency in March that will require the city to spend an estimated $2 billion on improvements to our sanitary sewer system within the next 15 years. The agreement requires the city to replace 5% of our lift stations and 2.5% of our gravity-driven pipes annually as well as make other improvements to reduce the risk of sewer overflows.
What does this change mean for you?
Roughly 60% of residents will see a $5 or less increase on their July bill. Over the next five years, the water rate will continue to increase, as outlined in the chart below. Please note, the chart does not include the solid waste cart fee, drainage fee, and TCEQ connection fee, which also appear on water bills.
HPW has provided the following two documents with further details on the rate changes. I strongly encourage you to review this information.