Water rate increase painful but necessary
The Board of Water Supply is considering raising rates during the next five years.
HONOLULU residents weary of rising taxes and fees are likely to see their water rates also go up this year
. Though no one relishes a raise in another municipal charge, the rate increase would be the first in more than a decade and appears necessary for the Board of Water Supply to continue to provide services and maintain an essential system.
Rates would grow nearly 58 percent during the next five years, but gradual implementation will help residents cope with costs. Conservation also can lower bills and, at the same time, lessen demand on Oahu's limited water sources.
The board is proposing to raise rates systemwide as operating expenses have jumped sharply since 1995, when it last increased fees.
Road repairs after breaks in water mains are expected to cost nine times more than they did 11 years ago. Labor costs during the past two years alone have increased about $5 million.
Among the steepest rises have been for energy, with electricity jumping 34 percent and fuel for vehicles a whopping 94 percent.
In addition, pipelines -- most of which were installed just after World War II -- are in need of repair or replacement. Cracks and breaches are common, and though not as frequent and as fouling as sewer line breaks, the system needs to be properly maintained.
The City Council, mindful of the numerous tax and fee increases it has enacted recently, wanted the board to delay the new rates until an audit of the water board's management is complete. But manager Clifford Lum reported that revenues are no longer covering operating expenses, and cash reserves of about $25 million are needed to keep a good credit rating and for emergencies.
The semi-autonomous board does not need the Council's approval for the rate increase. However, if the audit shows areas for belt-tightening, reductions should be made.
Oahu has seen a boom in construction in the past few years. While water infrastructures for new housing and commercial developments are put in by builders, they are turned over to the board to run, adding to its revenue but also to its operating costs. Moreover, the build-up means more demand for water as sustainable yields from aquifers decline.
In less than 15 years, Oahu will be pumping close to all of its available ground water supplies. The board has plans for desalination plants, to boost recycled water resources for garden and golf course irrigation and to replace drinking water used for air conditioning with deep-sea water -- all expensive projects. Conservation, however, is free.