The June/July issue of The Source included an overview of the results of the 2011 North Central Region Utility Rate Survey. The survey for systems serving more than 5,000 people has been printed and is in the distribution process. The survey for systems serving fewer than 5,000, and for regional water systems, is currently at the printer and will soon be distributed to all participants. Again, thank you to all who took the time to share information from your utility.
In this edition of The Source, we build on the June/July issue by presenting more results from the 2011 data collection effort. We begin by recalling that AE2S has been preparing an annual rate survey for systems serving more than 5,000 people since 2002, for a total of 10 years. In 2006, we expanded the effort to include systems serving fewer than 5,000. As a result, we have 10 years of large system data and six years of smaller system data.
Although the survey respondents changed somewhat each year and the total number of respondents varied, many systems did respond each year. The first graphic below illustrates the breakdown of systems by population that responded to the 2011 survey. This includes metro and non-metro systems serving more than 5,000 people, as well as systems serving fewer than 5,000 people. The bar charts provide a look back at the reported average residential water and wastewater charge for 6,000 gallons per month each year, as compared to the Consumer Price Index for all urban customers (CPI-U) applied to the water and wastewater rates at the beginning of the reporting period for each graph.
A comparison between the blue and green bars to the CPI-U (orange line) gives an indication of how the average cost of water and wastewater utility services, respectively, has changed, as compared to one measurement of inflation/deflation. These changes could be a reflection of a number of things, such as increasing operation and maintenance costs, capital improvements driven by regulatory mandates, efforts to catch up on deferred capital investment, capital investment and rate increase initiatives to address water supply issues related to drought, and efforts to implement sustainability measures, such as full-cost pricing.
In addition to surveying communities, in 2007, we also began to collect rate information from regional water systems in the North Central Region. We now have five years of data from these systems.
Regional systems do not have the benefit of being part of a larger jurisdiction from which funds can be transferred to support operations and capitalization, when necessary. At the same time, regional systems are often more successful than municipal water systems at finding outside funding sources to assist with capital needs. By necessity, to ensure that the system can operate and meet all financial obligations, rates for regional systems most often are constructed to cover the full cost of service after grant funding. Regional systems often include a debt service or capital investment component in the minimum rate, and as a result, the average rate is much higher than for a user in a municipal system. For municipal systems, distribution systems are often constructed using special assessments.
The graphic below illustrates the minimum, maximum, and average reported charge for monthly usage of 6,000 gallons from regional water system data for the past five years. The purple bars indicate the number of systems that responded each year. It should be noted that the comparison of minimum and maximum values from year to year can be skewed by the fact that respondents are not necessarily the same each year, and there was a noticeable decrease in rural system participation in 2011.
We hope you find the information in this edition of The Source interesting and useful. If you would like additional information about the annual North Central Region Utility Rate Survey completed by AE2S Nexus, if you have suggestions for topics to be addressed in future versions of the rate survey, or if you would like to participate in the 2012 survey, please contact Miranda Kleven at 701.746.8087, or Miranda.Kleven@ae2s.com.