Higher Water Bills Surprise Residents

Rate hikes kick in at the same time as Virginia American Water and Alexandria Renew Enterprises roll out new, separate bills.

If your most recent water bill seemed higher than normal, it was. Did you notice that the cost of treating your wastewater went up too? 

This fall, for the first time, Alexandria residents and businesses received separate bills for their water and the cost of cleaning it. 

Virginia American Water, which supplies water to homes and businesses in the city and beyond, unexpectedly announced last year it would no longer provide third-party billing services. So, the wastewater treatment costs formerly included on the quarterly bills, were sent separately by Alexandria Renew Enterprises

The company changed its name from the Alexandria Sanitation Authority.

When the separate bills started appearing in mailboxes in October, some customers were alarmed. 

"Our bill was $40 higher than last quarter—and we don't water our lawn," wrote Del Ray resident Karen Johnson on a neighborhood listserv. She exchanged messages with others who were confused by the new bills and curious about the apparent rate hikes. One said she nearly threw away the new bill from Alexandria Renew because she didn't recognize it.

It turns out that the separation of the two bills occurred in the same cycle as increased rates from both companies took effect. 

"It was the perfect storm," said Karen Pallansch, the CEO of Alexandria Renew. 

Her company approved a new rate structure two years ago that was first reflected on bills in October 2011. The plan included a second increase that took effect Oct. 1 of this year and appears as a pro-rated charge on the new bills. The increase means that the account services charge for all customers will rise from $6.02 to $6.78 and the Bay Protection charge for residential customers will climb from $16.77 to $25.15. Commercial customers pay more. The charge to treat wastewater remains unchanged. 

The spike in the Bay Protection charge is the result of more stringent regulations that call for removing more of the contaminants from the wastewater, Pallansch said. 

"That takes a lot of infrastructure and a lot of money," she said. 

Water bills from Virginia American Water reflect a 12.2 percent rate increase that took effect July 12. The company filed for the rate increase with the Virginia State Corporation Commission Feb. 6. It requested the additional revenue to pay for infrastructure improvements and the cost of complying with increased regulations. A public hearing on the rate increase, which was opposed by the Alexandria City Council, was held in Richmond Sept. 25. 

The commission has not yet ruled on the rate increase. If the commission rejects it, customers will be credited for the extra charges, said Mary-Jane Atwater, a spokeswoman for Virginia American Water.

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Katy Cannady November 29, 2012 at 04:12 PM
Actually our local elected leaders bear responsibility too. There is a proposal for renovation and expansion of our sewer system on the docket for the December 4 Planning Commission. Whatever new rules EPA intends to enforce, we have aging infrastructure in some neighborhoods and a great deal of new residential and some new commercial construction going on right now or in the planning stages. We have to service the new development and we have to maintain old infrastructure. We will probably see water bills go way up as a method to have all of us pay for this. There is no way around this. When you get your new higher water bills after the sewer overhaul, do remember that that argument that new development keeps our real estate tax low, has a flip side too. In almost all cases, the taxpayers and not the developers foot the bill for the major infrastructure that development demands.
Lee Hernly November 29, 2012 at 06:06 PM
When the Sanitation Authority attempted to effectively steal the Hooff/Fagelson property in South Carlyle, they put most of the blame on the needed expansion due to the new State & EPA regulations as well as increased capacity from Fairfax County which they also serve. The Authority also is tens of millions of dollars in debt. The items Katy mentions is above and beyond this. So, you think your bill is high now...
matt tallmerq November 29, 2012 at 06:53 PM
I beg to differ: EVA paid for all the sewer lines in an around its redevelopment projects on the old ARHA sites, as did the developers of the new projects across the street from the Post Office and on Route One South near Madison Street. If memory serves me correctly, at some time during the late 1990s, the City mandated that developers - not taxpayers - foot the costs of installing new sewers.
Tincup November 29, 2012 at 07:06 PM
Move along, nothing to see here... EPA, Alexandria City government at work!
Katy Cannady November 29, 2012 at 09:54 PM
The new sewer master plan contemples paying for a large expenditure (not clear what the total will be, may not even be known) by adding considerably to everyone's water bill. If the developers were really paying for much of the new sewer cost, I don't think that would be needed. Just paying for new lines on your property or very near to it, does not pay anything like the entire bill. This major over hall is scheduled to be voted on during December after public hearings before the Planning Commission and City Council. Obviously the hope is that people won't be paying much attention.


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