Wichita Falls Citizens React to Possible Water Rate Hike

- Wichita Falls leaders say people have conserved water so well that city budget funds are coming up short, but that shortcoming may have an effect on your water bill.

Officials are discussing a possible 53% rate increase to make up for the millions of dollars lost in water sales this year.

As the drought continues, that revenue is also needed to fund water projects like the permanent water reuse pipeline that will be built in a few years.

Now, Chief Financial Officer Jim Dockery says the average water bill is about 26 dollars a month the increase would bring that to around 40 dollars.

It's a change that some residents say is just unfair while others feel it's a necessity as the city finds ways to make every drop count.

City council could vote on the increase at their next meeting in August. If approved it would go into affect immediately.

Watch citizens reaction in the video above.

Darron Leiker, the Wichita Falls city manager has released a lengthy statement on the proposed water rate increase. Here is the statement in full:

I want to clearly state the facts that recently led the City to propose a water rate increase. The
Water Fund is operated as a standalone business or enterprise, meaning that the only revenues
we have to operate and maintain three reservoirs, two state-of-art water treatment plants,

The General Fund (or property tax fund) does not support the Water Fund or vice versa. We do
not use the Water Fund revenues to pay for streets, police, fire services, parks, MPEC, etc.
As a result of this ongoing record-breaking drought, we have seen our water revenues fall by
45%. Yes, this is a result of conservation, which has obviously been required to help us survive

However, we must still maintain and pay for a large water treatment and delivery system,
whether we sell one drop of water or not. We have held off increasing water rates during this
drought as long as possible (to account for reduced consumption), but we cannot wait any
longer because all of our Water System Reserve Funds are depleted. We have had to use
these reserves (over $4 million) during the last year to pay for normal operating costs of the
Water/Sewer System. We have also deferred over $3 million of normal routine water/sewer line
replacement projects during this time. We still have a backlog of $65 million in water lines and
$45 million worth of sewer lines that have been identified as needing replaced. Leaky or busted
water lines cost us millions of gallons of water annually.

You might say: “With most businesses, if their revenues are down they will simply cut their
expenses by a like amount to make up this difference. Why can’t the City do this?” Simply put,
we are not like a normal business. Almost all of the operating costs of the Water System are
FIXED at the same amount and cannot be reduced when we sell less water. For example, we
have annual debt service payments for previous water system improvement projects that remain
the same regardless of how much water we sell. We must meet a myriad of unfunded federal
and state mandates, such as the number of plant operators that must be on site at the plants 24
hours per day, 7 days per week, and 365 days per year. These operators ensure that water
quality and safety standards are met, regardless of how much water is moving through the
system. We also must continue to maintain and repair water/sewer lines and other system
infrastructure even in times when water sales are below normal. So, unlike other business
enterprises, we have very little discretion to lower costs just because we are earning less money
on the amount of product we are selling. We are not a widget factory, where if the number of
widget orders fall, we can throttle back the widget assembly line, buy less raw material and
eliminate workers, to close the deficit. In fact, the opposite is true. During this drought we’ve
had to spend more money to treat and sell less water. We’ve also seen more leaks and water

In addition, we have covenants to our bond holders that require the City to establish water rates
sufficient to meet debt service coverage requirements. Our debt service is the annual payment
of principal and interest for major water system improvements that were made over the last 10
years to improve our water supply and treatment capabilities such as the Lake Kemp Supply
Improvements. Failing to comply with these covenants would increase our future interest costs
by lowering our credit rating. With current conservation measures in place, we will not be
meeting these requirements unless we increase water rates.

Also, the proposed rate adjustment is needed to pay for bonds that will be required for the
Indirect Potable Reuse Project. This is a new project that is estimated to cost $30 million to
construct a permanent pipeline and pump station to convey treated effluent from our River Road
Wastewater Treatment Plant to Lake Arrowhead. This important project is estimated to save
nearly 10 million gallons of water per day. Finally, our proposed rate adjustment will set aside
$1 million annually to begin a war chest to help pay for a future water supply project to shore up
the amount of dependable water we have for our citizens. At this time, several long term water
supply projects are being evaluated to determine which one is the most cost effective and
provides the best dependable water supply. Regardless of the project that ultimately becomes
our next supply, this rate increase will be needed to help with the cost of that project.

So just how much will the proposed rate increase cost? It will result in an approximate $14 per
month increase to the average residential water customer (based on 6 units or 4,488 gallons
used). So for about 46 cents more per day, we can address the critical issues I’ve outlined
above. We all would agree that water is not a discretionary item. It is necessary to sustain life
and protect property, and helps maintain the quality of life that we all expect. Compare your
water bill to your monthly cell phone, home or business phone, Internet service, cable or
satellite television bills, and then ask yourself how our water prices stack up and which is more

For less than one penny, you can buy 3 gallons of highly purified drinking water, delivered to
your home or business, available for use around the clock, which also protects your property in
case of fire. A lot of people wouldn't even question the price of bottled water at over $1 per
bottle, per 16 ounce ($4 per gallon), that they had to go and pick up while using $3.50 per gallon
gasoline. Our city’s potable water is a bargain for a commodity that we cannot live without.

Darron Leiker
Wichita Falls City Manager

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