County Regional Water Authority and city of Magnolia increase their fees this spring.
While Magnolia City Council members moved March 13 to amend the city’s utility fees, water rates increase April 1 for residents within the NHCRWA’s jurisdiction, which encompasses all of the Greater Tomball area north to the Harris-Montgomery county line.
After many months of discussions, Magnolia City Council members voted to adjust the city’s water and wastewater rates March 13, effective with the April billing cycle. While residential rates remain unchanged until further notice, commercial, multifamily, irrigation and institutional accounts will see changes in their water bills in April.
“The in-city residents will not be receiving a higher bill as of yet,” City Administrator Paul Mendes said. “[Council has] been very careful to make sure that we’ve brought it in phases.”
The city’s new fee structure is tiered according to the quantity of gallons used each month. Previously, a water bill was structured around the size of the water meter.
In addition to restructuring fees, the city also added new account categories, including senior and disabled residential rates, multifamily rates, and a separate rate for institutional, nonprofit and tax-exempt entities. Previously part of the commercial accounts, school campuses, churches, and government and nonprofit facilities are included in the institutional category and are charged a higher fee, as the users do not pay property taxes to the city.
The new rates also factor in a nominal fee per 1,000 gallons for major maintenance and depreciation costs. These fees are subject to review by the council each year as the city works to phase in a larger fee to fund maintenance and depreciation expenses.
For example, the maintenance fee is expected to increase by about 52 cents each year from 52 cents per 1,000 gallons of water used in 2018 to $1.55 per 1,000 gallons in 2020. The depreciation fee is expected to increase from 45 cents per 1,000 gallons of water used in 2018 to $1.35 per 1,000 gallons in 2020.
“[Account holders] can either call in [with questions], or when they pay the bill, the person who takes their money is able to answer any questions,” Mendes said.
In Tomball, the fee for groundwater increases from $2.90 to $3.40 per 1,000 gallons pumped on April 1, according to NHCRWA officials. Surface water fees also increase.
The rate increase is needed to help fund projects designed to deliver surface water to the area from Lake Houston, NHCRWA President Al Rendl said.
“Our financial people are saying they think that we can get by with about a 50 cent increase on an annual basis until the rates reach somewhere in the $5 range,” he said.
The NHCRWA is part of a team that has been tasked with converting portions of the Greater Houston area from groundwater to surface water as mandated by the state, which is requiring that 60 percent of water use come from surface water by 2025 and80 percent by 2035.
While Tomball is part of the NHCRWA, the city has not yet had to convert from groundwater to surface water.
“Tomball had been part of our coalition going back to 1995 when we were trying to get a regional water authority created, because they thought they would need surface water down the road,” Rendl said. “They [at the time] had the responsibility to convert 30 percent of their area by 2010 [into surface water] and 60 percent by 2020. The only reason we are not converting them today is because we are converting [other parts of Harris County], which is including their part of the total.”
Without being part of the NHCRWA—and without converting to surface water—Rendl said the Harris-Galveston Subsidence District, a district created by the state to regulate groundwater withdrawal, would likely be charging Tomball users $8 per 1,000 gallons of water for failing to comply.
Groundwater comes from aquifers, or natural underground pockets of water.
Rendl said if the area does not decrease its groundwater use, aquifers in certain areas will eventually run dry.
“The farther north and west you go, where most of our new construction and demand is, that’s where the aquifers are much shallower,” he said. “When you look at development around the Grand Parkway, all of those people are going to need water. The growth is causing us to have to rethink almost daily where we’re going to need lines first and where we’re going to need lines the most.”
Rendl said water rates in unincorporated Harris County are still low compared to other cities facing water challenges, such as Phoenix, Los Angeles and in the city of Houston. Over time, he said, more people have begun to realize the importance of securing water for the future.
“There are more and more people, and there is only a finite amount of water,” Rendl said.