Watch Your Water Bill Rise

Houstonians will see their water bills go up in April and possibly again later in the year. Houston's water-sewer system is losing money and city officials say rates must be raised to keep the system running. Laurie Johnson reports.

Part of the problem is that a sizeable chunk of the money Houstonians pay for water-sewer service gets diverted. About $50 million a year is sent to the city's drainage fund.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker says the city needs to find another way to pay for drainage.

"You have a structural imbalance. Money coming in based on the needs of the water-sewer side, and yet we're pulling some of that money out to fund drainage. We need to identify a dedicated source of money for drainage and stop tapping the water-sewer system for that."

Parker says the Public Works department has already done a rate study to determine the base cost of providing service. Then other variables were factored in to determine how the rates would be affected.

"And then add in another layer of what does the system need in terms of keeping the system healthy, not just the baseline, but keeping the system healthy. And then what we need to really do to supply the long-term water needs of our citizens."

Some estimates from those studies would raise Houston's water-sewer rates by as much as 14 percent.

Councilmember C.O. Bradford says before rates are raised, city officials should look at where they can tighten the budgetary belt.

"We must devise a strategy to look at the city's overall picture and see how can we possibly reduce spending in areas that are not part of the core services that the city is charged with fulfilling."

However Bradford says he would support a dedicated fee for drainage if that would help ease the financial burden on the combined utility system.

Mayor Parker says she's open to the idea of a drainage fee, but is not ready to commit to such a plan.

It may take several months for council to decide how to change the utility system's funding structure. Even so, Houstonians will see an previously scheduled rate change show up on water bills in April.

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...