Water Rates and a 2017 Increase
In January the City needed to raise rates on the water and sewer service. This increase is necessary in order to keep up with costs of maintenance and operations, to make sure there is sufficient revenue to continue to make the payments on loans the City used to construct water reservoirs and the sewer system. In addition, part of the utility rate goes to a reserve fund, a “savings account” that the City will use to make future improvements to the water and sewer utilities. The revenue that the City receives from our water system customers can only be used for water system expenses. We can’t, by law, use this revenue for parks improvements, or street maintenance or any other City expense that is not related to the water system.
The State of Washington requires municipal water systems to revise the Comprehensive Water System Plan every six years. As a part of the Water Comprehensive plan the City has also been working with a consulting firm, the FCS Group, in analyzing current water rates and proposing changes to the rates that will keep the system financially healthy and bring in enough revenue to fund the maintenance and operations and construct the needed capital projects in the system.
In an initial meeting with the City Council the consultants recommended a sewer rate increase that was close to ten percent and a water rate increase of 6.5%.
Mindful of Carnations’ utility cost the City Council requested the consultant go back and find a way to lower that potential increase. The result is an approximate 5% increase to the sewer rate and an approximate 4.5% increase to water rates. The actual increase on your bill for water will vary depending on how much water you actually use. Below is the approximate rate increase for a customer inside the City and at the lowest water usage:
Base Rate, residential, inside city limits
Consumption, per 100 cubic feet
History of Water in Carnation
The City of Carnation has supplied drinking water to the community for almost one hundred years. When the city was still young the city drew its water from springs located in a wooded sixteen-acre tract south of the Tolt River that was owned by the Weyerhaeuser Timber Company. Carnation eventually purchased the original sixteen acres plus an additional 64 acres from Weyerhaeuser. These 80 acres, approximately two miles south of town are referred to as “the spring site” and the full eighty acres is the City’s protected watershed.
The original piping for the water system was wood stave pipes, made from split and hollowed cedar logs wrapped with galvanized wire. As Carnation and the region grew the original wood pipes were replaced with a combination of steel pipes and pipes made of a mix of asbestos and concrete. Today when the City replaces older portions of the system or when developers install water lines for subdivisions, the City requires a minimum of an eight (8) inch diameter ductile iron pipe.
Your Carnation water system is comprised of approximately twelve miles of water lines and over 400 valves. There is one 109,000-gallon storage reservoir at the springs and two reservoirs at the City Public Works Shop. Total water storage is 714,000 gallons. Since 2008 the City has replaced 2,400 feet of the transmission line that brings the water from the springs and almost 4000 feet of new water mains installed by the City and 6,000 feet of new water mains installed by the developers of the new subdivisions.
The new water mains and the increased water storage has improved the City’s fire flow, (that amount of water needed to fight a commercial fire). By improving the fire flow we have improved our fire insurance rating, thereby saving residents on the cost of their fire insurance premiums.
Leakage from old pipes has also been a problem. The Public Works department has an ongoing leak detection program focused on finding and repairing leaks in the water system; between 2008 and 2015 the City decreased its “distribution system leakage” from approximately 42% to under 10%. Carnation has also focused on other improvements to the water system by installing a new meter at the spring source, and on-going residential and commercial water meter replacement.
The Comprehensive Water System Plan
The Comprehensive Water System Plan analyzes the existing water system, provides guidance to evaluate the impacts of future growth and recommends needed improvements to the physical water system to ensure Carnation continues to provide high-quality, reliable water service to its customers. City staff and the City Council have been working with Stantec Engineers over the course of the past eighteen months in the preparation of a new Water Comprehensive Plan for the Carnation water system.
The Water System Comprehensive Plan consists of nine chapters covering:
- Chapter 1: Description of the Water System
- Chapter 2: Policies, Criteria and Standards
- Chapter 3: Basic Planning Data and Water Demand Forecast
- Chapter 4: A Water System Analysis
- Chapter 5: Water Use Efficiency
- Chapter 6: Source Water Protection
- Chapter 7: Operations and Maintenance
- Chapter 8: The Capital Improvement Program
- Chapter 9: The Financial Program
While the Comprehensive Water System Plan contains technical information mostly of interest to hydraulic engineers two chapters should be of interest to water system customers: The Capital Improvement Program (Chapter 8) and the Financial Program (Chapter 9). In preparing the Comprehensive Water System Plan the consulting engineers developed a list of system improvements they recommend be constructed over the next twenty years. Projects include physical improvements to the water system infrastructure which includes installing new or replacing old water mains and valves, improvements to service areas, and improvements to the well in Loutsis Park.
Operations & Maintenance
The City’s Public Works staff are responsible for Carnation’s water system. Through training and certification their mission is to provide a safe and reliable source of drinking water for the community. They test our water on a daily basis for the following:
Chlorine residual at 3 different locations
PH – Raw water before treatment and finished water at the end of the distribution system
Temperature – Raw and finished water
Turbidity – Raw and finished water
The water is also tested at 5 different locations throughout the distribution system one time per month for bacteriological contamination. The City tests for lead and copper every two years.
Other tasks in caring for the water system include: maintaining the miles of pipes and hundreds of valves, monitoring the chlorination equipment at the springs, collecting samples and having the water tested by an outside laboratory. In addition, work includes exercising valves, repairing leaks, meter reading, and replacing water meters. Administrative tasks include accounting and administration, engineering, and overall compliance with health and safety regulations and state and federal laws.
Capital projects in 2017 include improvements to the well as we will install a back-up generator and a chlorination system. We are also planning improvements to the water service in the “Garden Tracts” area north of downtown. The Garden Tracts water system consists of undersized piping that ranges from four inches down to an inch and a half. The current system is prone to constant leaks and has become a maintenance problem.
Debt Service: For large, costly improvement to the water system the City will sometime use debt. Two water reservoirs were constructed and came on line in 2012. These tanks were financed by borrowing the money. A portion of the utility payment goes into a separate fund to make the annual payments on this debt.
The City Engineer is reviewing the recommended improvements in the new Water Capital Improvement Plan. As the projects are prioritized further we will then develop a strategy as to when to construct the projects and how to pay for them. This is an annual task that occurs during the preparation of the City’s budget.
These water system improvement projects can cost anywhere from thousands of dollars to a million dollars or more. In order to pay for water capital projects, the City has two options: pay as you go, using funds saved over several years; or borrow the money by issuing revenue bonds that are paid off over time, usually a twenty-year span. In 2017 we will use money that the City has saved in the Water Capital fund to construct the projects utilizing “pay as you go.”
The Carnation Sewer System
Up until 2008 Carnation did not have a sewer collection and treatment system. Prior to that residents and businesses relied on antiquated septic systems, which often failed and released contaminated water into the areas groundwater. Following several years of study, planning and engineering Carnations sewer system came on line in 2008. The community invested approximately $14 million in the construction of the system.
The wastewater from homes and businesses flows by gravity into “valve pits”. (there are nearly 400 valve pits in the system. Every pit is inspected annually by city staff.) When the waste water reaches a certain level in the pit the pit opens and the waste is pulled into the sewer system by vacuum created by four pumps that are housed at the vacuum pump station. The pumps pull the waste water through more than 60,000 feet of sewer line throughout the city. Once it reaches the vacuum station the sewage is pumped next door to the King County treatment plant.
The Utility Bill
We have made a couple of changes to the Utility Bill that we hope explains the various charges and where the money goes:
Water Service + Usage: This is the type of water service you are billed for, plus your monthly water usage.
Water Capital: The portion of the bill that goes into a fund that is used to pay the annual payments on the loans used for major water system improvements, such as storage reservoirs.
Dump Closure: This charge goes into the Landfill Closure fund and is used for the annual monitoring of the ground water under Carnation’s closed land fill. (See 11/28/2016 Report to Community for details about the landfill and the dump closure fee.)
KC Treatment: This portion of the fee pays King County for the cost of treating Carnation’s waste water. While Carnation collects the sewage it is pumped to the King County Treatment Plant where the waste water is treated, cleaned and the effluent then pumped to the Cedar Bend Natural Area.
Sewer Debt: This portion of the bill is used to make annual payments on loans the City received to construct the sewer vacuum station and all the underground pipes and valve pits that make up the sewer collection system.
Sewer GFC: This is the sewer “general facility charge” the fee charged to all users to connect to the sewer system. Every property that connected or connects to the sewer system pays this fee. At the time the sewer system came on line (2008) not everyone had the ability to pay the full fee This is for those properties who needed to pay the fee in installments. The new homes in Carnation also pay this fee, which is usually an up-front cost and paid by the developer.
Sewer M&O: This portion of the bill pays for the maintenance and operations of the city’s sewer system.
Sewer Capital: This portion of the bill goes into a “savings” account and can be used to replace portions of the sewer system if needed in the future.
The City Council is keenly aware of the impact that the utility rates have on residents. However, the community has excellent water and has invested in a modern sewer collection system. The water and sewer utilities are much like a business and in order to stay viable the utilities must be operated “in the black.” In order to do that, we must, from time to time, analyze the cost of doing business and adjust the rates when necessary.