Over the next few weeks, Wilmington City Council is considering a three-year water rate plan that includes a 5 percent increase in 2022, followed by 3 percent increases in 2023 and 2024.

This proposal was made after months of analysis and consideration of the resources needed to continue providing an abundant supply of safe drinking water to Wilmington residents.

It takes a vast network of infrastructure to deliver high quality water to residences and businesses. Almost all of Wilmington’s water infrastructure is many decades old.

Major projects over the past couple years at the Wilmington Water Treatment Plant and the Burtonville reservoirs have greatly increased the reliability and resilience of the water system. Those projects were funded by a small amount of grant money, and 0 percent interest loans from the state, which need to be repaid.

While Wilmington aggressively pursues all available state and federal funding options, outside funds are not available for the routine maintenance that keeps the water treated and flowing. Therefore, additional finances are needed.

In a report to City Council this year, the Water Department listed some $27 million in additional maintenance issues facing the department. Those issues cannot all be addressed at the one time. They are constantly being prioritized.

The City of Wilmington strives to keep utility rates affordable while at the same time ensuring enough resources are available to provide safe drinking water and proper sanitation.

The following lists average monthly drinking water portion of the city utility bill for residential customers under the proposed rate plan:

• 2021: $39.17 (current)

• 2022: $40.81

• 2023: $41.84

• 2024: $42.91

The rate proposal will be discussed and voted on at regular public City Council meetings on Thursdays December 2 and 16. This increase of less than $4 a month over a three-year period will help pay for the major improvements to infrastructure while continuing to provide a high level of customer service to the citizens of Wilmington.

Bills produced by the City’s Utility Billing Office are often referred to as a “water bill.” Much more than drinking water charges are on the bill. Other charges include wastewater collection and treatment, the stormwater fee, trash collection services and recyclables pick-up.

Few people understand the effort it takes to properly provide drinking water services.

The news media has documented a few communities across the country that have struggled to provide safe drinking water. These difficulties were largely a result of a lack of funding. A poorly-financed utility cannot perform needed maintenance, and results in cost-cutting that is detrimental to the water supply and therefore the safety of the community.

The root cause of the infamous Flint, Michigan water crisis was an effort to reduce costs.

Among the activities required to provide an abundant supply of safe drinking water:

• Maintenance and monitoring of two water sources — City-owned reservoirs at Burtonville and the large intake at Caesar Creek Lake.

• Pumping water from those sources to the water treatment plant on Lowes Drive.

• Monitoring and maintenance of nine distinct chemical and physical processes used at the water plant to remove contaminants from the water and ensure it remains safe all the way to the consumer’s tap.

• Dozens of tests conducted daily in the water plant’s in-house laboratory. Many additional tests are completed by independent labs.

• Maintenance and repair of nearly 100 miles of water mains and four water towers. Some of the water mains are more than 100 years old.

All these activities require the efforts of about 20 dedicated employees who operate the treatment plant every day of the year, maintain the piping systems, and respond to emergencies anytime, day or night.

Residents who are struggling to pay the water and wastewater bills and have income at or below 175 percent of federal poverty criteria may be eligible for one-time assistance through the Low-Income Housing Water Assistance Program.

For example, a household of four people with an income of $46,375 or less, may be eligible for assistance under the program. The income level moves up and down in proportion to the number of people in the household.

For more information about the Low-Income Housing Water Assistance Program, contact Clinton County Community Action at 937-382-8365 Mondays through Fridays from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

By Rick Schaffer

Wilmington Public Works Director