Pay the piper: expensive water
November 22, 2006
Summit County’s Mountain Regional Water Special Service District may charge nearly twice as much for water as anywhere else in the nation.
That is according to the publication, U.S. Water News, which recently identified Huntington, W.Va., as having the most expensive water rates in the United States.
Residents in that eastern city are charged roughly $5.61 per 1,000 gallons.
But that’s around $5.39 less than what Mountain Regional charges many homeowners per 1,000 gallons of water.
"You’re paying a lot for water," says David Brown, vice president of NUS Consulting Group, in a telephone interview Tuesday.
Brown’s group surveyed rates charged this year by 51 randomly selected water systems in the U.S.
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Per 1,000 gallons, the other most expensive water rates in the country are in Pittsburgh, Newport, N.H., Boston and Atlanta.
"We feel it’s pretty representative of what you’ll find throughout the United States," said Brown about the survey. "It’s meant to be as diverse as possible."
But with a base rate of $55 that includes $5,000 gallons of water per month, Mountain Regional’s prices could far outpace those charged by some of the most expensive water companies in America.
"If the public at large had to pay this in Summit County I think people would be just livid," says Snyderville Basin resident Dennis Ceccarelli, who is a Mountain Regional customer. "[Mountain Regional’s] rates are as expensive as they can possibly be."
Mountain Regional uses most of the base rate paid by its customers to service nearly $33 million in bonded debt the county incurred to form the water system, Mountain Regional chief Andy Armstrong said.
"That’s what it took to get everything together so we would have safe, reliable water," Armstrong said, adding that the results of the survey did not surprise him. "We’re in the second driest state in the nation so water isn’t going to be inexpensive."
The county’s rates are on par with other rural water systems in the West, he claimed.
Debt, however, has so riddled Mountain Regional that the County Commission now must charge more for water than systems in New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco, countered Ceccarelli, who has been a homebuilder in Park City for almost 29 years.
"I think I’ve got a fairly well-rounded perspective as to what it takes to get water to the spigot," he said, adding, "I honestly believe that Mountain Regional is the most expensive water in the United States and I would defy them to tell me that it isn’t, and if it isn’t, who has the most expensive water?"
Condominium owners in the Basin who opt for a $49 monthly base rate that includes 3,000 gallons of water pay even more, Ceccarelli said.
"The long and the short was that the most expensive water that they could find for this report, based on 1,000 gallons, was out of West Virginia," he said, adding, "Mountain Regional is three times more expensive than the most expensive water they could find in the United States."
Summit County commissioners made bad decisions when they squandered money from the Mountain Regional bond by paying too much to acquire private water systems in Snyderville, Ceccarelli said.
"They’ve been foolish," he said. "They were ill-informed and just didn’t think it through."
He blasted past commissioners for attempting to condemn Summit Water Distribution Company, the county’s private competitor in the contentious Basin water market.
"It set the tone for a lot of these issues," Ceccarelli said.
One of several expensive lawsuits Mountain Regional is currently fighting involves allegations from Summit Water Distribution Co. that the failed condemnation attempt violated state antitrust laws.
"It may be in the best interest of the county for Summit Water to take over Mountain Regional," suggested Ceccarelli.
The lowest costs for water in the United States, according to the survey, were in Greenville, Miss., Savannah, Ga., Biloxi, Miss., Chicago and Memphis, Tenn.