Environmentalists are giving cautious approval to a plan by the Lower Colorado River Authority to raise municipal water rates by 19.5 percent next year.
The increase would not affect Austin Water customers, because the city-owned utility has a separate deal with the LCRA. But it would affect people in other Central Texas cities such as Dripping Springs, Cedar Park and Leander.
“Water in Texas is very cheap and by and large," says Ken Kramer with the Lone Star chapter of the Sierra Club, "price increases will, in the long term, at least have a positive impact in making us more efficient in the use of that valuable resource.”
But some Central Texas mayors are not enthusiastic about their constituents paying more for water, especially in some of the faster-growing Austin suburbs like Leander. That city partnered with Round Rock and Cedar Park to develop a $350 million regional water system that could accommodate their growing populations.
"We're paying debt service on that and have already had to take some pretty steep rate increases for that," Cedar Park Mayor Chris Fielder said. While he supports increased water supplies for his city, he's worried that the extra cash from LCRA's rate hike will go toward funding projects that primarily benefit downstream water users.
"The hard part to this is LCRA charging firm water customers that don’t get a benefit of whatever it is they’re building," Fielder said.
LCRA says some of the increased revenue would be used to finish building a $214.9 million water reservoir in Wharton County. That would primarily benefit agricultural users, but the LCRA says it would also ease demand on the Highland Lakes that supply Central Texas municipalities, including Austin.
Another suburban mayor declined to speak on the record because he had not yet reviewed the rate hike proposal, but he expressed concern about the increases in years after 2015. The proposal calls for prices to rise to $251 per acre-foot in 2019, a 61 percent increase over the current rate.
The LCRA estimates the 2015 increase would cost an average household an extra $3 to $5 per month.