Clean Water Bargain

Keeping the Bargain - Investing in Infrastructure Part 4

 

Water Pollution Control Plant

Energy costs are on the rise at PWD facilities, just like they are for homeowners and individuals.

Let’s wrap up our blog posts about the big-ticket items that have made our rate changes necessary with a frank discussion about something that every household has been dealing with.

The cost of every input we use to clean the drinking water and treat the sewage and stormwater has increased significantly over the last several years. As energy costs continue to rise rapidly, so do the products and services we purchase.  The costs of chemicals and replacement equipment have risen faster than the rate of inflation. We at PWD understand that these are issues faced by all of our customers and that increasing rates in the context of all these other costs is not ideal. We are all ratepayers ourselves and feel the effects as well. Please know that we’re doing everything in our power to shield our customers from as many of PWD’s increased costs as possible.

Stay tuned for more information about the investments and expense-cutting measures we are doing to help us in this effort, and feel free to get in touch with us anytime on our Facebook page

Keeping the Bargain – Investing in Infrastructure Part 3

 

PWD Skimmer Vessel

A Water Department Vessel skims trash off the Schuylkill River. Trash can be picked off the river, but other pollutants require specialized detection and treatment.

As we spend the week talking about the big-ticket items that made this month’s rate changes necessary, we can't forget the work PWD does to maintain the health and safety of our ratepayers.

Today’s Water Department customers rely on us to protect them from pollutants that past generations didn’t have to worry about. We are already taking steps to keep our drinking water safe and improve the detection of Iodine 131, an element used to treat thyroid disease, and pollutants from Marcellus Shale gas drilling.

PWD takes its role as the protector of our region’s drinking water very seriously. For us, the rivers aren’t just the source of our product; they’re a major environmental, recreational and tourism asset. The revenue we receive from our ratepayers is used in large part to help us protect our drinking water supply both for our current customers and future generations of Philadelphians.

Do you have questions about any of these issues? Feel free to get in touch with us on our Facebook page. You can also go to our website to read more about Iodine 131 or Marcellus Shale drilling in the Delaware River basin. 

Keeping the Bargain - Investing in Infrastructure Part II

PWD Repairs a Water Main

PWD Repairs a Water Main 

If you’ve been reading the news over the past several months, you may have noticed a bit of a pattern with the weather we’ve been having. Whether it was Hurricane Irene in 2011 or Super Storm Sandy in 2012, some pretty intense weather events have been walloping us lately.

The flooding that comes as a result of these increasingly intense rainstorms adds to the strain on Philadelphia’s combined storm and wastewater system. These storms can overwhelm many of the older pipes and tunnels in the City and add significant costs to repair and replacement. While our Green City, Clean Waters program aims to relieve a great deal of that stress, we are still faced with the necessity of repairing and replacing pipes that have been around for a century. Given that one of the effects of global climate change is an overall increase in the frequency and intensity of these storms, we are trying to prepare the system by keeping our traditional infrastructure in good repair and building new green infrastructure.

We’d love to continue this discussion about global climate change and its effects on our local infrastructure. Chat us up at PWD's Facebook page, to share any relevant links or stories.

Keeping the Bargain - Investing in Infrastructure

Skyline, by Randy Calderone

We've mentioned in previous blogs that we've got better priced water than our suburban friends. Our infrastructure has to stay ahead of the curve to keep it that way.  Photo- Randy Calderone.

Now that we’re into the New Year, most of our customers have probably gotten their first water bills of the year. As we explained at the beginning of the month, rate changes that were approved as a part of our public hearing process this summer and fall went into effect starting January 1st. While rate increases are always difficult, we don’t take them lightly and turn to them only to cover the costs of “big-ticket” items that occur in the process of providing the same clean, safe, reliable drinking water our ratepayers have come to depend on.

For the next few days, we’re going to outline some of these big-ticket items so we can be as transparent as possible about what our recent rate changes are going toward.

To start off... for all of those who have seen the newly released theatrical version of Les Misérables and were curious about the sewers through which Jean Valjean carries a wounded Marius Pontmercy, let us explain a little about Philadelphia’s sewer system which bears some striking resemblance to those of mid-1800s Paris.

Our combined sewer system sends wastewater from the home into the same pipes as storm water from the rain. While the generations before us were doing the best they could with the information and resources they had at the time, it turns out that connecting the pipes that come from our drains and toilets to the same tunnels that carry the storm water can bring some problems. As little as a tenth of an inch of rain is enough to overwhelm our sewage treatment plants and cause overflows of storm water and raw sewage to spill into our waterways. So PWD is solving this with our state-of-the-art and yet fiscally conservative $2 billion Green City Clean Waters Plan. This is as little as a quarter of what other cities have planned on spending to fix the same kind of problem, but it will still add to our costs over the next several years.

Our goal is to use green infrastructure to keep storm water from ever reaching the sewer system, directing it instead where it naturally wants to go: back into the ground. “Green” infrastructure refers to street trees or planters, as opposed to “gray” infrastructure like pipes. By the time all of the Green City, Clean Waters infrastructure improvements are put in place, Philadelphia will have the nation’s greenest, most innovative and naturalistic solution for storm water management. It’s an investment that will pay off for our children, grandchildren and beyond.

Check out our Green City, Clean Waters Year in Review 
to see how far we’ve come already and learn more about where we’re going.

Have you noticed Green City, Clean Waters projects in your neighborhood?
Share with us at our Facebook page!

The Clean Water Bargain: A Lean, Mean Water Delivery Machine


A biogas co-generation facility is under construction at the Northeast Water Pollution Control Plant

A few posts back, we explained how the rising costs faced by PWD are a large part of what’s driving our proposed rate adjustments. We should also explain that we aren’t proposing these adjustments without first doing everything we can to balance these increasing costs with cuts to our expenses.

Some of the most significant savings came from the Green City, Clean Waters plan. This plan is what the Philadelphia Water Department put forward as a way to meet requirements for reducing the overflow of sewage into the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers during rain events. Where other cities have been faced with up to an $8 billion cost for creating entirely new tunnels to separate the stormwater from the wastewater, PWD will spend about a quarter of that over the next several years on green infrastructure meant to keep much of the stormwater from ever entering the system. The end result: fewer streets being torn up to install new tunnels and more trees and other greenery throughout the city, providing cleaner air and water while reducing the urban heat island effect that cooks us each summer.

The Clean Water Bargain: Our Two Cents

Pop Quiz: How many flushes does your average water bill buy you?

a. 1,152
b. 2,327
c. 3,516
d. 5,240

(Answer is on the back of this web page. Just kidding. It’s c – 3,516.)

As we mentioned in our previous post comparing Philadelphia Water Department rates to those of neighboring utilities, the average Philadelphian uses about 600 cubic feet or almost 4,500 gallons. The total bill for that amount of water usage AND the wastewater treatment that keeps the water supply clean AND the stormwater management that keeps the streets clear and the rivers healthy AND billing and collecting done by the Water Revenue Bureau (a department of the government wholly separate from PWD) comes to about $63.

Let’s have some more fun with math, shall we?

Given those numbers, 10 gallons of water costs about 14 cents. In four years, after the proposed rate adjustments have gone into effect, that 10 gallons of water will cost a little more than 16 cents. To put it in perspective, 10 gallons of the water (which is likely tap water, same as that you can get at home) in that 99-cent, 20-ounce bottle from the local convenience store would cost about $63. (And probably not taste any better at all.)

Those extra two cents or so per 10 gallons allows the Philadelphia Water Department to continue to ensure safe, high-quality drinking water while being a responsible steward of the region’s waterways—the Delaware and Schuylkill, along with dozens of other creeks and streams enjoyed by thousands of people every day. Those extra two cents mean that our children and grandchildren will have a chance at a cleaner, healthier environment than the one we started with.

The Clean Water Bargain: Psst. Don't Tell Your Suburban Friends and Family How Much You Pay for Water.

The next time you’re at a party out in Delaware or Montgomery County, you may want to tread lightly on the subject of utility bills. A recent survey of the surrounding areas revealed that many water customers are paying double what the average customer in Philadelphia is paying. In fact, customers of Aqua America—a publicly traded, for-profit, investor-owned utility (NYSE: WTR) that covers Delaware, Montgomery, Chester, and Bucks counties—charged $53.61 for 4,488 gallons (600 cubic feet) of water, the average amount used by PWD customers. Philadelphians, on the other hand, paid just $26.08 for that same amount from the taxpayer-owned Philadelphia Water Department.

A full comparison of water and sewer charges paid by PWD customers and customers of Aqua and eight other utilities can be found here.

OK, but maybe our suburban neighbors are getting better water from a different source, right? They could be trucking in some really primo stuff from those same crisp, cool mountain streams that we see on Coors Light commercials. That would explain how it’s twice the cost.

Nope.

The Clean Water Bargain: PWD's Rising Costs

With the Philadelphia Water Department proposing a rate change for 2013, we're running a series of informational posts to explain how water rates are set, the terminology behind the rate setting process, and the investments PWD is making in our city's infrastructure, health and environment.


A combined sewer overflow

As we wrote in our post explaining what it means to be a “cost of service” utility, PWD doesn’t operate to make a profit. We simply need to set rates so that we cover our annual costs and long-term debt obligations without ever needing a bailout from the City of Philadelphia. So our rates change for the most part as our costs change. We’re able to shield our customers from the full effect of rising costs by finding other places to cut expenses. When the “big ticket” cost increases come along, that’s when we go to our ratepayers to help shoulder the load a little and make it possible for us to continue to provide the same clean, safe, reliable drinking water they’ve come to depend on.

What are some of the big ticket items?

The Clean Water Bargain: Bond...Water and Wastewater System Revenue Bond

With the Philadelphia Water Department proposing a rate change for 2013, we're running a series of informational posts to explain how water rates are set, the terminology behind the rate setting process, and the investments PWD is making in our city's infrastructure, health and environment.

OK, maybe not as exciting as that other Bond we’ve been watching since Dr. No came out in 1962, but this bond—along with several of its brothers and sisters—does just as much to keep us from suffering major disasters at the hands of diabolical enemies (in our case, rust, corrosion, wear, and damage).

Some time ago, the local papers asked opinion leaders in the region what they would recommend the city do with a billion dollars. At the Water Department, we know exactly what we would do. That money would go right into fixing and replacing some of the 6,000 miles of pipes and tunnels that carry stormwater off the streets, our wastewater (a nice way of saying what you flush out of your house) to our treatment plants and our drinking water back to our houses. It’s a system that has been around for decades and, frankly, is starting to show its age a little. The tough part is that a billion dollars wouldn’t even begin to cover everything we have to do and the last time we checked, no one was going around handing out billion-dollar checks. (Could you imagine the size of that novelty check?)

The Clean Water Bargain: Cost of Service Utility

With the Philadelphia Water Department proposing a rate change for 2013, we're running a series of informational posts to explain how water rates are set, the terminology behind the rate setting process, and the investments PWD is making in our city's infrastructure, health and environment.

We use the phrase "cost of service utility" often to describe the financial structure of the Philadelphia Water Department. It basically means that we are an organization that provides a critical resource for which we charge a price—but only enough of a price to pay for our expenses and the debts we have incurred to finance the construction and repair of our sewers, water lines, treatment plants and stormwater management improvements.

We can’t call ourselves a non-profit because that would imply that we are some kind of private company, which we are not. We are a part of the Philadelphia city government. (It's the Philadelphia Water Department, not the Philadelphia Water Company.) But essentially, we operate as a non-profit, which means we are entirely focused on delivering the highest quality service that we can at the lowest possible price, making our customers happy and protecting the local environment. This is in contrast with some privately owned utilities or companies which seek to charge the highest price they can in order to maximize profits and make investors happy.

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