Starting in April, Columbia County residents will pay higher water bills. And customers who really open up the spigots and let the H2O flow will pay even more.
While a rate or tax increase of any kind is rarely a reason to applaud, Columbia County water and sewer customers certainly wont mind the small 2.9 percent hike approved last week by county commissioners.
The key to that likely customer approval is the fact that along with that rate increase comes an even bigger price for those who pour enormous amounts of water down the drain - those customers who use more than 50,000 gallons a month.
We let the free market dictate it, says Water and Sewer Services Director Billy Clayton. I actually like that better; if you want to use it, here it is, but you have to be willing to pay for it.
Under the old rate system, residential customers paid one rate for general use, and at 30,000 gallons per month a higher rate kicked in. The new rate system adds a third tier that raises the rate even higher for residential customers who use more than 50,000 gallons per month.
How much water is that? Put it into perspective. The water department estimates average domestic water use - cooking, bathing and laundry, not including watering lawns or washing cars - is about 8,000 gallons per month.
To use 50,000 gallons in a month, what youd have to do is use the basic domestic use, plus water every other day for five to six hours, Clayton says. Most folks dont water like that.
But some do; one customer last year, for example, pumped out more than 250,000 gallons in one month. The new rate ensures those water-hogs pay their fair share not only for the luxuriously waste of natural resources, but for the excess capacity they force the water and sewer system to handle.
Remember: The water and sewer system is what the government calls an enterprise fund, which means it is supported only by its customers. County taxpayers dont pay a dime for the water and sewer system to operate or expand, so rate increases arent tax hikes; they are part of the cost of operating a fast-growing business. And at an average cost of $30-35 per month, most water and sewer customers pay less per month than they do for cable television.
Eventually, pressures on the countys water source - the Savannah River - will dictate significant conservation measures. Raising the price on wasteful users is certainly a good start.
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