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Posted April 11, 2014 | comments Leave a comment

What's a gallon of tap water cost?

Municipal water cheaper than store-bought, but rates vary

By Alex Bridges

Shenandoah County charges a penny for each gallon of water it delivers to customers -- far less than what many stores charge for the same amount for such a vital service.

While many people could stand to live without a cell phone or cable TV for a few days, county Director of Public Utilities Rodney McClain said water remains a necessity. People, he said, would find it tough to go a whole day without using water.

"I always try to point out what people pay if you figure it costs you one or two dollars a day to be able to flush and shower," McClain said.

He noted that technological advances have not made it any easier or cheaper to distribute water or to collect wastewater for treatment. Transmission still requires pipes and equipment, and that remains expensive. The rates users pay also go to cover the cost of chemicals needed to treat the water coming into plants as well as sewage from the wastewater treatment plants.

All municipalities that offer water and sewer service charge customers, whether or not they use a utility, up to a certain amount. Providers then charge for water and sewer use over the minimum amount. Base rates differ among the area's towns and counties.

Shenandoah County and town rates

Shenandoah County's two sanitary districts provide water and sewer services to those residents, businesses and industries not already served by towns or that use wells and/or septic systems. Customers receive water and sewer service from the Toms Brook-Mauretown or the Stoney Creek Sanitary Districts.

Users in the Stoney Creek Sanitary District pay $39 every two months at a minimum for using up to 3,000 gallons. They pay this amount whether they use water or not. At that rate, customers pay 1.3 cents per gallon of water. Customers then pay $5 for every 1,000 gallons of water above the minimum up to 6,000 gallons. The fee goes up to $6.50 for every 1,000 gallons used beyond 6,000 gallons.

Customers in the Toms Brook-Maurertown Sanitary District pay $25 for the minimum of up to 2,000 gallons and $5.50 for each 1,000 gallons above that quantity. A customer pays 1.2 cents per gallon under the minimum rate and 1 cent if they use 3,000 gallons.

By comparison, Strasburg charges a residential user $24.10 for a minimum up to 2,000 gallons of water and $11.70 for each 1,000 gallons over that quantity per month. It costs slightly more than a penny for one gallon of water in Strasburg.

Edinburg charges $22.75 for the first 3,000 gallons of water and $6 for each 1,000 gallons beyond the minimum amount.

Woodstock charges $19.12 for the first 2,500 gallons of water per month as its minimum quantity. The town then charges $5.86 per 1,000 gallons of water up to 47,500 gallons. The rate for each 1,000 gallons over that amount then drops. Woodstock charges higher rates depending on the size of the water meter and if the customer is outside town limits.

New Market charges $28.10 for the first 1,700 gallons of water used per month in town limits. Customers pay $13.68 per 1,700 gallons used beyond the minimum quantity. Per the minimum rate, customers in New Market pay 1.6 cents per gallon and 1.2 cents per gallon if they use 3,400 gallons.

Front Royal rates

Front Royal currently charges $9.31 per 3,000 gallons -- the minimum amount -- per month. Users then pay $7.99 for each 1,000 gallons beyond that. At the minimum rate, users pay three-tenths of a penny per gallon of water. If a person uses 6,000 gallons of water in a month, he or she pays $33.28 for that utility -- or roughly a half-cent per gallon.

The single customer uses below 3,000 gallons of water per month on average, where as a family likely uses approximately 7,000 gallons, according to information from Front Royal Finance Director Kim Gilkey-Breeden.

Front Royal Town Manager Steve Burke said staff members and council usually talk about rates in terms of the monthly impact on the typical customer.

"When you look at our rates in terms of the cost per gallon, it does demonstrate the cost effectiveness of our municipal water treatment operations," Burke said in an email Thursday.

Frederick County and town rates

The Frederick County Sanitation Authority provides water at a minimum rate of $24.59 for the first 2,000 gallons and $3.87 for each 1,000 gallons used over the minimum, according to information from the agency website. At those rates, the customer pays 1.2 cents per gallon for quantities within the minimum amount, and 9/10 of a penny for 3,000 gallons.

Middletown residential users pay a $12 service charge and then $7.35 for each 1,000 gallons of water used. Stephens City charges $16.75 for the base amount of 3,000 gallons or less and $3.34 for each additional 1,000 gallons.

Warren County does not operate municipal water or sewer systems. Residents and businesses use wells and septic systems or other private means.

While McClain didn't have information to show how much it costs the districts to produce water or to treat wastewater, he noted that public utilities are not in the business to make money. The money brought in goes to cover ongoing system maintenance costs. Municipal systems also collect money in order to cover one-time capital costs such as equipment replacement and needed upgrades.

However, providers often need to borrow money to pay for large-scale projects such as system improvements. Providers then must pay off the loan over time and often raise rates to cover the debt each year. McClain pointed out that local governments have had to take on debt to upgrade their facilities. He added that the county could expect to borrow money again in 10 years or so to cover any plant upgrades.

Typically, local governments increase rates for utilities in anticipation of needing the funds for a future project or they raise the levies as they pay off the loans.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com


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