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Monday, September 20, 2010

Portland water rates jump 47% in three years

Our new Portland water and sewer bill is here, and it's even more of a humdinger than usual. Substantial increases for water and sewer charges just showed up, and even on a pro-rated basis, they're pretty wicked.

As expected, the water and sewer rates rose, effective July 1 -- just as they had the year before, and the year before that. We are not the world's greatest expert on these rates, but having spent some quality time with our water bills from the last few years, we've come up with a compilation of the applicable figures for a single-family residence for the quarter, and for some previous quarters. Pardon the mind-numbing data, but check out the percentage increases over the last 27 months:

ItemJune 2008June 2009June 2010NowLatest Increase (Decrease)Increase (Decrease) Since 6/09Increase (Decrease) Since 6/08
Water Volume - Rate per Hundred Cubic Feet$1.860$2.070$2.440$2.73312.01%32.03%46.94%
Sewer Volume - Rate per Hundred Cubic Feet$5.70$6.08$6.50$6.926.46%13.82%21.40%
Portland Harbor Superfund*$4.96$4.04$4.52$3.83(15.27%)(5.20%)(22.78%)
Base Charge$19.39$18.51$22.13$24.7912.02%33.91%27.78%

* - Assumes 1,800 cubic feet per quarter of sewer volume, and 6,500 square feet of impermeable surface.

As best we can tell, here's what the damages would be if we had been a Portland customer, being dinged for 1,800 cubic feet per quarter of water and the same amount of sewer, with 6,500 square feet of impermeable surface -- then and now:

ItemJune 2008June 2009June 2010NowLatest Increase (Decrease)Increase (Decrease) Since 6/09Increase (Decrease) Since 6/08
Water Volume$33.48$37.26$43.92$49.1912.01%32.03%46.94%
Sewer Volume$102.60$109.44$117.00$124.566.46%13.82%21.40%
Portland Harbor Superfund*$4.96$4.04$4.52$3.83(15.27%)(5.20%)(22.78%)
Base Charge$19.39$18.51$22.13$24.7912.02%33.91%27.78%
Total Bill$211.70$224.17$246.15$267.748.77%19.44%26.47%
Water Volume and Base Charge Alone$52.87$55.77$66.05$73.9812.01%32.65%39.93%
Sewer, Stormwater, and Superfund Alone$158.83$168.40$180.10$193.767.58%15.06%21.99%

For many customers, 1,800 cubic feet is a lot of water, and so here are the water volume and base charge numbers based on smaller amounts of consumption:

Water Volume LevelJune 2008June 2009June 2010NowLatest IncreaseIncrease Since 6/09Increase Since 6/08
400 Cubic Feet per Quarter$26.83$26.79$31.89$35.7212.01%33.33%33.13%
600 Cubic Feet per Quarter$30.55$30.93$36.77$41.1912.02%33.17%34.82%
1,000 Cubic Feet per Quarter$37.99$39.21$46.53$52.1212.01%32.93%37.19%
1,500 Cubic Feet per Quarter$47.29$49.56$58.73$65.7912.01%32.74%39.11%

No matter how much or little water one uses, it's obvious that the cost of water and sewer is skyrocketing, especially water. In our interminably down economy, it's going to be a hardship for more and more people. This is quite a time to be asking them to pay for Jesse Cornett's campaign ads, Henry Paulson's hot dog vendors, a train to Milwaukie, and a streetcar to Lake Oswego. But hey, that's Portland, the city that nickels and dimes you to death.

Comments (26)

Oops! Comments were disabled on this post. Quite inadvertently. They're back up and running now.

Those are really big nickles and silver dimes.

Hey, Randy found the way to raise money. Offer the exact same product you get for free thru the same delivery system and then set up the EPA as the bogeyman with the threat of some action.

I'd like to see PGE try to raise rates at this breath-taking pace. BTW, this is not nickels, I think PWB's annual revenue is in the $100M range. 45% = $45M out of our pockets (or about $100 more) each year.

The city's been pushing rain gardens, rain barrels, ecoroofs and other stormwater collection and management gimmicks for years. I guess this is how they're finally going to get us to knuckle under and start using those things.

Please try and attend the Bull Run LT2 Town Hall Meeting that will address this and other issues, such as building an unnecessary UV plant at the federally protected Bull Run (more and more rate increases for years to come to accommodate)
Saturday September 25th, 2010
> Western Seminary
> 5511 SE Hawthorne
> Portland, Oregon 97215
> 10AM- 12Noon

"I guess this is how they're finally going to get us to knuckle under and start using those things."

I guess that's why PURB told PWB they are wasting money and the rate increases were unnecessary for. I guess that's also why they want to spend things on stuff like green houses and solar panels which are totally unrelated to water delivery.

You know as well as I do that's a cover story for raising rates and extorting funds from the taxpayers.

Get your rain gardens, rain barrels, stormwater collection systems in place in an effort to save and store water and I expect the CofP will then accuse you of stealing public resources and levy a nice, big fine. As well as confiscating your rain barrel, stormwater collection system, etc.

So much for the city trying to get us to "conserve" by riding our bicycles in the rain and mud or sweltering summer heat. The cost and "green" savings will be more than negated by taking several showers at home each day.

We'll were in allegedly "water poor" Northern Nevada and our water rates are under 40% of what we paid in Portland - and yet we're in larger house with an outoor sprinkler system we never even had in Portland.
Of course, the Washoe County Commission doesn't use the local water department as a piggie bank for all sorts of unrealted programs...

We told you so..and the financial tsunami is just beginning. Heating up the pot one degree at a time so you don't notice you're cooking.

A reader writes:

Substantial increases in your drinking water bill will continue for many years, doubling in less than 5 years. For well over $1 Billion including debt service we will be treating for a public health problem that does not exist.

Cryptosporidium is not the problem and it never was. Catastrophic sewage events are the origin of the EPA LT2 Regulation being necessitated. Bull Run source water has no municipal, agricultural, or industrial sewage exposure. It’s not going to happen here. All Unfiltered Systems such as ours have NEVER had a Cryptosporidium event. Since 1993, NO municipally treated surface water system has had a Cryptosporidium outbreak.

Additionally, our open drinking water reservoirs have never had a chemical or microbial public health problem. Conversely, covered reservoirs have been linked to many deaths from bacteria, and gas. If we cover our open reservoirs, gases such as Radon, chloroform, etc. will end up in our homes, businesses, and schools.

Please join us in a Bull Run Town Hall to discuss: background, solutions, and actions to stop this wasteful, unneeded, and expensive use of public dollars that will degrade our drinking water with toxic and carcinogenic chemicals. These are deadly substances that our Portland Water Bureau characterizes as "just chemicals."

Bull Run Town Hall
Saturday September 25th
Western Seminary
5511 SE 55th
Portland Oregon 97215

10AM – Noon

Friends of Safe Drinking Water

Bull Run:
Designed by Geniuses,
Ruined by Buffoons.

Monopoly utilities are just another way for governments to extract more money from the taxpayers.

Not only that there is nothing in the law that says they can't exempt certain individuals from paying anything for water. So your rates may go up 1,000% but your neighbor with "party connections"
(sounds a lot like the old Soviet Union, doesn't it?) will pay little or nothing for water. And that's legal.

Since the politicians find it difficult anymore to raise taxes without setting off howls of protest they just get money somewhere else...And that somewhere else is monopoly utilities.

Just be thankful that as voters you have the opportunity to comment on policies and change board members.

Customers of Oregon Electric Co-operatives, state sanctioned monopolies, do not have the right to free and fair elections to elect board members, do not have the right to attend board meetings and do not have the right to even comment on rate increases much less stop them. For more information see http://www.reformwascoelectric.com


· Privateers may be creeping around your town hall. Your town is sitting on a gold mine: your water supply. Corporate executives know this and may be trying to weasel control of YOUR water from your city or town.
· Corporations may try to exploit your struggling city. Because of the economic crisis, cities and towns across the nation are going broke, and large corporations are offering large sums of cash in exchange for control of our valuable drinking water and wastewater systems.
· You might not know it‚ happening in your own community. Your mayor or city council may be cutting a deal behind your back. They could be trying to sell off control of your water without even telling you. We’ve seen it happen far too often.
· Your water bill could skyrocket. If you let them privatize your water utility, you could end up paying as much as 80 percent more for water service. . .

Since I do not know, but must ask - is this what our officials are up to, as a bailout for the billion dollars/debt and our city going broke?

The newest water rates equal 2.7 gallons of water for $0.01...that seems like a really good bargin for clean, delicious water delivered right to your door. And much cheaper than a bottle of Nestle Water from the Vending Machine.

The newest water rates equal 2.7 gallons of water for $0.01...that seems like a really good bargin for clean, delicious water delivered right to your door.

True, but you're ignoring the base charge, and you're overlooking the much higher sewer and stormwater portions of the bill.

Maybe these are the true costs of delivering water and piping away runoff and wastewater in our century-old sewer pipes while complying with EPA mandates. However, our city leadership does not inspire confidence when they tap these funds for unrelated or unnecessary things like voter-owned elections, water bloggers and tweeters, bike lanes, and trying to buy land from The Oregonian at an above-market price. So you'll have to forgive us if the rest of us are cynical about these huge increases.

Excerpt from today's (9-21-10) article in The Oregonian:

"... The second crisis puts Oregon's most prized and precious resource, its water, at risk. Oregon's public water utilities have provided reliable access to drinking water and safe disposal of waste water for decades. But a crisis looms. It's a crisis across the country, but one we can avert through a renewed commitment to our public water and sewer systems. And it could be funded, in part, by taxing the very industry that uses and profits most directly from these systems: the beverage industry.

For over a century, our nation's water systems have provided us with reliable access to this vital resource. But the steady decay of our drinking water and sewer infrastructure is positioning us for catastrophe. Few Portland-area commuters will soon forget the water main break that blew a 100-yard trench in Southeast McLaughlin Boulevard in early July, closing that highway for days. The pipe that burst was 51 years old.

The consequences of aging sewer systems can be even worse. When aging pipes can take no more, they burst and spill untreated waste into rivers, lakes and streams. In 2009, for the fifth year in a row, the U.S. saw more than 18,000 closures and advisories at ocean, bay and Great Lakes beaches, many as a result of these messy system failures. This past May, Portland warned against swimming or skiing in the Willamette River for several days because of sewage overflows.

When Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974, it raised the bar for drinking water standards, and the Clean Water Act of 1972 promised much-needed money to help communities meet these goals. But times changed.

Beginning in the 1980s, the federal government steadily cut back funding for community water systems. Investment reached an all-time low during the second Bush administration. While the cash flow has since increased, a much bigger infusion is needed to counteract years of neglect. ..."


Peter Nierengarten
Senior Engineering Associate

How many years with Water Bureau? Three.

Hometown: Arkadelphia, Arkansas…yes it is a real place.

Favorite part of your job: My favorite part of the job is the tremendous variety associated with my work. I get to work with school kids in the watershed, work in the Emergency Operations Center, participate in the design of Capital Improvements, trouble shoot issues in the field, and help to analyze how best to operate the water system. . .

Since you appear to be with PWB, what is your take on what will happen to our clean, delicious drinking water, what have you told the children about the toxic chemicals that will be added to the drinking water, or is that a conversation that is not brought up around the bureau?

If we don’t get this Waiver and we are in this federally protected watershed, Nestle’s will have plenty of people buying their water then, won’t they - once the toxins are added to our now good water?

A few cents here and there?
This will be over a billion dollars and water rates will double!
Is this good for businesses and jobs in our area?
Certainly,not good for the residents.

Our public’s financial matters are at risk!
Our public’s health is at risk!

This nonsense needs to stop.
If our malfunctioning Council wants to make mistake after mistake, they have just gone too far when it involves our having to literally swallow one more very big mistake!

Peter's comment did, indeed, come from a city computer.

Hey Tim Hall with the Portland Water Bureau. Take the money you're wasting on EPA LT2 and put it into the deferred maintenance That solves the problem.

(interview cont'd from link above)
What would you be doing if you weren’t helping bring water from the forest to the faucet?
If I weren’t working at the Water Bureau, I’d be teaching Geography at a high school somewhere in Middle America.

If you would be teaching Geography at a high school, you must know then about the geography of our region? The Missoula Floods and the granite that exists right in our city and that we have a radon problem? Covering reservoirs will allow this radon to come out into our homes, schools, etc.
. . or is the radon matter being covered up?

Funny, I didn't see in my water bill the itemization for PWB engineers to post comments to blogs while on the clock . . .

"And much cheaper than a bottle of Nestle Water from the Vending Machine."

I love these guys - Until PWB water costs what Nestle costs its a good value, nice way to shift the argument - Especially since PWB pays nothing for the water itself.

I would love to see what PWB thinks a fair profit is for their group. I am trying not to remember this is a govt agency.

Lest Mr Nierengarten thinks I am alone in my thoughts:


Good read on link you provided by the Portland Utility Review Board, March 18, 2010:PWB Budget Recommendation #1:
We are concerned that the City of Portland cannot provide utility services to residents at just and reasonable rates because the current system for setting water & sewer budgets and rates lacks effective checks and balances. . .

Eric, PWB self-promotion is included in the Base Charge: it is a very base fee.

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