If your most recent water bill seemed higher than normal, it was. Did you notice that the cost of treating your wastewater went up too?
This fall, for the first time, Alexandria residents and businesses received separate bills for their water and the cost of cleaning it.
Virginia American Water, which supplies water to homes and businesses in the city and beyond, unexpectedly announced last year it would no longer provide third-party billing services. So, the wastewater treatment costs formerly included on the quarterly bills, were sent separately by Alexandria Renew Enterprises.
The separate bills started appearing in mailboxes in October and immediately alarmed some customers.
"Our bill was $40 higher than last quarter—and we don't water our lawn," wrote Del Ray resident Karen Johnson on a neighborhood listserv. She exchanged messages with others who were confused by the new bills and curious about the apparent rate hikes. One said she nearly threw away the new bill from Alexandria Renew because she didn't recognize it.
It turns out that the separation of the two bills occurred in the same cycle as increased rates from both companies took effect.
"It was the perfect storm," said Karen Pallansch, the CEO of Alexandria Renew.
Her company approved a new rate structure two years ago that was first reflected on bills in October 2011. The plan included a second increase that took effect Oct. 1 of this year and appears as a pro-rated charge on the new bills. The increase means that the account services charge for all customers will rise from $6.02 to $6.78 and the Bay Protection charge for residential customers will climb from $16.77 to $25.15. Commercial customers pay more. The charge to treat wastewater remains unchanged.
The spike in the Bay Protection charge is the result of more stringent regulations that call for removing more of the contaminants from the wastewater, Pallansch said.
"That takes a lot of infrastructure and a lot of money," she said.
Water bills from Virginia American Water reflect a 12.2 percent rate increase that took effect July 12. The company filed for the rate increase with the Virginia State Corporation Commission Feb. 6. It requested the additional revenue to pay for infrastructure improvements and the cost of complying with increased regulations. A public hearing on the rate increase, which was opposed by the Alexandria City Council, was held in Richmond Sept. 25.
The commission has not yet ruled on the rate increase. If the commission rejects it, customers will be credited for the extra charges, said Mary-Jane Atwater, a spokeswoman for Virginia American Water.
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