MWRA rates seen rising

MWRA water and sewer retail rates – the amount communities charge homeowners and businesses -- increased an average of 5.3 percent last year even though actual water usage continued to decline, dropping by 3.7 percent for the year, according to a rate survey released Tuesday.

The study, conducted by the MWRA Advisory Board, which represents the 60 cities and towns served by the authority, found the combined annual water and sewer charges for homeowners in the authority area increased to an average of $1,196, up from $1,136 in 2008. The board described the decline of water use by MWRA customers, combined with rising costs, as an “alarming trend,” noting that MWRA system-wide sales have declined from more than 300 million gallons per day in 1980 to under 200 million gallons per day in 2009.

Last year, according to the advisory board, water usage dropped by 3.7 percent, to 189 million gallons per day. The advisory board says reduced water usage represents an “environmental success” but asserts the trend is “wreaking havoc” on the ability of communities to accurately project and collect the revenues needed to operate local systems, with half the communities in the MWRA system predicting budget shortfalls due to lower than projected consumption.

The board, which has pushed to bring more communities into the MWRA system, says “many communities” in that system are currently discussing or planning mid-year rate hikes to address the shortfalls.