Considering water rates and systems in the suburbs

American water is pretty cheap but rates can vary quite a bit across suburbs:

Among the primary determinants of cost is the source of the flow. Water drawn from the ground generally costs less — in Warrenville, for example, residents pay just $16.88 per 8,000 gallons for the well water on their utility bills — while those who receive Lake Michigan water, brought in via pipeline and sold by the DuPage Water Commission, are billed at higher rates. Usage of 8,000 gallons in Naperville brings a customer bill of $58.69, according to a rate analysis done by the city. That’s substantially less than the $75.96 average fee paid by all of the communities on the commission’s lake water line…

Elgin residents pay about 25 percent less for their fresh water than people billed in Aurora, where the fee for wastewater treatment is significantly higher as well…

The city plugs its latest numbers into that model to determine water rate increases. The philosophy essentially matches the rates customers pay with the cost of providing the service, said Dave Schumacher, superintendent of Aurora’s water production — not unlike the way other major cities in the region calculate their rates…

The needs of each water system also play a role in setting its rates. Aurora’s 100-year-old pipes are taken into account when the city is projecting its upcoming costs…

A fixed fee also is included on most residential bills. In Aurora, the availability fee comes to $11.65 every other month. Elgin collects $8.54 monthly, and Naperville adds a $5.05 customer charge every month.

So there are a number of variables at work. However:

1. How many of these suburban balance their budgets each year?

2. This reminds me of the mid to late-1800s where many suburbs near major cities wanted to be annexed because infrastructure costs for emerging technologies – like sewers, electricity, natural gas – were prohibitive. Yet, once these prices dropped so did annexations because communities could do it themselves.

3. Does each community need its own system or might it be cheaper to combine some? Why not have a combined Naperville-Aurora water system? This would go against the idea of local control in the suburbs but does it really matter for water and electricity if having more customers in a single system could make things cheaper.

4. I’ve seen several commentators suggest water infrastructure in many municipalities isn’t in that great of shape, particularly in older communities. Will there be a point where significant money will need to be put out at one point to improve such systems? If so, will it be paid for by bonds or other means?

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