Why is my sewer bill higher than my water bill?
a way, water is a lot like a two-way toll bridge… it costs us coming and
going. Turning lake, river, or
ground water into safe drinking water has a cost.
Cleansing the resulting wastewater for its return to the environment has
another cost. Fortunately, the
people of Huntsville pay lower rates than much of the
State or the
country for both drinking
water and wastewater treatment service.
the costs, customers are sometimes surprised to find their sewer bill to be as
much as, or even more than their water bill.
How can this be? After all,
drinking water is clean, pure, healthful. Wastewater
is, well… sewage.
it is not unusual across the country for a sewer bill to be higher than the
corresponding water bill. As
environmental regulations have become more and more stringent over the past few
decades, the costs of treating wastewater to required levels have risen
relative sizes of a customer’s water bill and sewer bill depend on how
various water and wastewater utilities calculate their bills.
Drinking water providers like Huntsville Utilities (www.hsvutil.org)
ordinarily bill monthly based on the quantity of water metered plus a monthly
Click here for Huntsville
Utilities’ current residential water rate
providers of wastewater treatment services, like the Huntsville Water Pollution
Control Department, also charge for their service based on the amount of
drinking water metered - although some providers bill a flat monthly fee.
charges are higher than water costs for many reasons.
The major reason lies in the differences between the systems for water
distribution and wastewater collection. Drinking
water flows through pressurized pipelines.
It can move uphill as well as downhill.
This means that water pipelines can be constructed at minimum depth
below the ground surface, often above the rock layers.
On the other hand, wastewater must flow by gravity – downhill the
whole way. In rolling terrain,
sewer lines must sometimes be built deep beneath the ground, well into hard
rock. Trench excavation –
especially in rock - is the largest part of the cost of building a pipeline.
The deeper the pipe, the higher the cost of construction.
cost factor lies in where the two types of pipelines can be built.
Since sewers rely on gravity to cause flow, they must be built in
lower-lying areas so adjacent homes will be at a higher elevation.
Right-of-way must be acquired and cleared, adding to overall costs.
Water line locations however, are not restricted by the laws of gravity
flow. Water pipelines can be built
in already-cleared road rights-of-way, often above the tough rock layers.
This construction is much easier and quicker.
sizes of drinking water distribution and wastewater collection systems also
affect costs. Ordinarily, a
community will serve more of its citizens with public drinking water than with
sewer service. Many water customers
are on septic tanks instead of sewers. The
water utility has a larger customer base to support its operating costs,
lowering the cost to individual customers.
figuring into the mix are the differences in
the treatment of drinking water and wastewater.
The fundamentals of making drinking water have changed little over the
years: settle it, filter it, disinfect it.
That method produces high-quality drinking water in systems the world
complexity of wastewater treatment, on the other hand, has increased
dramatically over the years. In its
earliest form at the turn of the century, wastewater treatment (if it was
provided at all) consisted of screening out the really big objects, then
discharging the rest to a nearby creek. Fifty
years later came settling tanks to remove smaller solids… but the finished
product remained terribly polluted, by today’s standards.
Over the last couple of decades, treatment has evolved to include
sophisticated biological systems for removing organic materials, complicated
filters, and modern disinfection methods. The
water released by the treatment facility is usually cleaner than the receiving
stream! The advanced systems are
costly to build and operate, increasing the overall cost of wastewater
treatment, in most cases.
cost of treating wastewater has risen more dramatically than the cost of
producing drinking water over the years. So
it is logical that sewer bills are higher than water bills.
Still, Huntsville’s residents enjoy better water and sewer rates than
much of the country. And in spite
of our area’s comparatively low rates, we still enjoy the benefits of a
well-run wastewater collection and treatment system - clean water resources and
reliable sewer service.