Water Becoming Unaffordable in Orange County

The vicious cycle of annual OWASA residential rate increases many times the rate of inflation is rapidly making water unaffordable. These exorbitant increases are unwarranted, reflective of poor management decisions. OWASA has set-up a vicious cycle of rate increases leading to reduction of water usage, which leads to further rate increases, leading to further usage reduction, ad infinitum. This system is not sustainable.


In 2008, a rate increase of 17% was put in effect in response to reduced water usage due to restrictions and voluntary reductions because of drought. In the August 2008 OWASA newsletter, a commitment was made to “continue to aggressively pursue efficiency and savings opportunities as we adapt to our changing environment.” In 2009 a further 9.75% increase is being forced upon the public, not due to drought, but now supposedly due economic conditions. Water rates have increased by 27% over the past 2 years and OWASA predicts a further 19.5% increase for 2010 and 2011. By 2011 water rates will have increased by almost 50% in 4 years during a period of low inflation and slow growth. I do not see this as adaptation to a changing environment but simply continuing OWASA ‘business as usual” and passing the bill on to the consumer. This is an unjustifiable rate of increase and cannot be attributed to temporary drought conditions, a poor economic environment, or major capital expansion.


The decisions made by OWASA management on past capital expenditures and inaccurate system utilization planning have placed the public in a very difficult situation. The residential customer is being asked to make-up for poor planning and the unwillingness by management to make hard decisions during trying economic times. OWASA does not appear to be making meaningful attempts to adjust its costs to the realities of reduced capacity utilization.  They have resisted necessary cut-backs in staffing and salaries, deferral or cancellation of non-vital capital expenditures, and other means for cost reduction.  


As a monopoly, OWASA is in a position of forcing rate increases upon its customer base without risk of customer defections. As residential consumers, our only option is to attempt to further reduce our usage of water as rates spiral upward. Of course, reduction in usage is rewarded with even higher rates for a lower level of service. The public cannot sustain continued annual rate increases averaging in double digits. This burden falls most heavily on residents of modest means and those on fixed incomes. I urge OWASA customers to voice their concern over this unsustainable situation by contacting OWASA, the Chapel Hill and Carrboro town councils, and the Orange County Board of Commissioners. It is in everyone’s best interest to keep our community affordable.


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