Can you drink HDTV? Helping the Public Understand the Need for Water Rate Hikes

Our customers, the publicly owned treatment works (POTWs), are under severe financial pressure.

By Keith Williams

Our customers, the publicly owned treatment works (POTWs), are under severe financial pressure. Operating costs are climbing, infrastructure is failing, and their revenue sources are limited. The POTWs will tell you, in many areas, proposing rate increases are akin to political suicide. The ratepayers express their opinions on rate hikes at the voting booth. Ratepayers tend to remember who they believe was responsible for their water bill climbing a couple of dollars per month.

The average ratepayer is not someone from the water and wastewater industry. The average ratepayer is your next door neighbor. They work at a bank, they teach school, they wait tables … the list is endless. They do not, for the most part, work in the water and wastewater industry.

The average ratepayer assumes, with very little thought about it, that the water flowing from their faucet in the kitchen is reliable and safe. The average ratepayer assumes that the water flowing into their drain lines is going somewhere. In their mind, anywhere is fine as long as it leaves their property.

We have heard from a number of more progressive POTWs about their education programs. These are the programs they put together at the local level in an attempt to educate the ratepayer about the local POTW. They attempt to explain, in layman’s terms, what the POTW is and does. This is all in an effort to get the ratepayer to be more accepting of the impending rate increase.

In spite of these training programs, rate increases still appear, by in large, to be rejected by the local ratepayers. This may be, to some degree, because the training programs are being given by the people most likely to directly benefit from the increased rate. Additionally, this may be because the ratepayer is not really paying much attention to the public service message being sent.

There is an additional opportunity to educate the ratepayer. We all participate, to varying degrees, in local, non-industry social events. These are the events where we are socializing with our neighbors. These neighbors are the local POTW ratepayers. These social events vary from the local Friday night high school football game or other sports activities, to various parties and family gatherings.

These social events are our opportunity, as water and wastewater industry professionals, to educate our neighbors, the ratepayer. The ratepayer, in this environment, will listen and think about what you are saying.

At your next social function, ask the group you are visiting with, “How much is your cable TV bill per month” or some other typical monthly bill they have. Talk about the specifics of that particular service. Many with cable TV are very passionate about the service, and the HDTV channels they receive, and the excellent picture quality, etc.

This topic is setting them up for the next topic. While many will complain that their cable TV bill is too high, most of them will know, very readily, what the benefit is to them. The benefit will range from many channels to choose from to great picture, etc. The important part of this discussion is that they recognize that they chose to pay for a service that provides them with a value.

Next, ask them how much their water and wastewater bill is. Ask them if it is important to them, that when they turn on the kitchen faucet, clean, reliable water flows. Ask them if it is important to them that the used water leaves their property. Then ask them if the service provides them value.

It may surprise you to see how many of your neighbors, when discussing water and wastewater rates in a social environment, are prepared to support increased rates. The holiday season is quickly approaching. The social opportunities are limitless. Please use this as an opportunity to educate your neighbors about the important services provided by the water and wastewater industry.

For our industry to regain its financial health and to be able to provide valuable services into the future, it is imperative that the local user rates are at a level to cover the full cost of service. Most of us love to talk. Let’s take a vow to talk up our industry whenever the local social environment permits WW

About the Author:

Keith Williams is Vice President, Biosolids at Ashbrook Simon-Hartley, a Houston, Texas-based manufacturer of water and wastewater technologies. He serves on WWEMA’s Board of Directors.

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