Juneau sewer rates more than double those of Anchorage, higher than Fairbanks

Posted: Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Juneau's wastewater rates as of Dec. 1 will be more than double those in Anchorage and slightly higher than the rates in Fairbanks. Juneau's water rates will continue to be lower than those in Anchorage and Fairbanks.

The city has increased the wastewater rates to help pay for millions of dollars in loans for current projects and projected capital improvements to the water and wastewater systems, Juneau Public Works Director Joe Buck said.

Wastewater rates are higher in Juneau than in Fairbanks and Anchorage because of stricter state and federal regulations to protect critical habitat areas, Buck said. The regulations require more treatment of effluent - or wastewater discharge - to protect the Gastineau Channel, the Mendenhall Wetland State Game Refuge and the Mendenhall River.

"Juneau has one of the highest levels of treatment criteria placed on it by the state and federal governments because of a high environmental value of receiving waters," he said.

In Juneau, all residential and commercial wastewater rates will jump from $39.50 to $54.91 per month for 4,000 gallons. The flat residential and commercial water rates rise from $19 to $22.61. The metered residential and commercial water rates increase from $13 to $15.47 per month.

The rates are in effect until July 1, 2007, when the city will reevaluate them. If enough grant money can be secured, the city may not have to raise rates in 2007, Buck said.

When the Juneau Assembly passed the new water and sewer rates, it also enacted a new bulk water rate that will charge cruise ships and other users that are not permanently connected to the city's system. The rate is $15.47 per month for 4,000 gallons, plus $2.08 for every additional 1,000 gallons used.

Anchorage and Fairbanks customers also must pay a Regulatory Commission of Alaska fee of about nine-tenths of a percent of their monthly bill for water and sewer services each. Rates in Anchorage and Fairbanks are regulated by the RCA, but the Juneau Assembly has the authority to raise rates here.

Juneau uses about 3.5 million gallons each of water and wastewater daily, Buck said. It supplies wastewater to 7,500 customers and water to 8,700.

Buck wants to install residential water meters in Juneau gradually during the next seven years. A city ordinance is already in place to meter duplexes, single family homes with apartments, and bed and breakfasts. Purchasing and installing the meters will cost the city $7 million. The city also will have to pay $300,000 a year to operate and maintain them.

The new sewage rates in Juneau will generate $1.9 million and water rates will generate $475,000 for fiscal year 2004, Buck said. Higher rates will help offset current debt and the cost of upcoming capital projects, he said. Public works has $8.9 million in outstanding state Department of Environmental Conservation loans for water and sewer-related projects. The loans are at a 2.5 percent interest rate over 20 years. In the fall of 2002, city residents approved $15 million in general obligation bonds - paid through property taxes - for water and sewer upgrades.

In addition to the DEC loans, the city just installed a $1.5 million ultraviolet light system at the Mendenhall Wastewater Treatment Facility and plans to install similar systems at other facilities. Juneau also faces a unfunded $500,000 federal mandate in the next two to four years to protect against a water parasite.

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