County water department to seek rate hike next year
By Sherri C. Ranta
The Miami-Dade County water department will ask county commissioners for a rate increase next year on top of one that they approved last year.
Bill Brant, director of the department, said the department needs to raise rates again to pay for infrastructure upgrades and continue to pay down the system's $1.7 billion debt.
Customers pay an average $1.07 a day, or about $32 a month, for water and sewer services, he said. Total annual revenues for the department are about $380 million.
County commissioners approved a 6% increase, or about $2 per household, last year - the first rate increase in seven years, Mr. Brant said.
Mr. Brant said he wanted a 7% increase this year but county officials nixed his proposal.
"We have a good system," he said, "but it still needs further upgrades. We're trying to deal with that fact."
The department services unincorporated Miami-Dade and 15 municipalities.
The system's capacity has grown by 88 million gallons of water per day in the past 10 years, he said. Annual debt payments have grown from $35 to $122 million.
But population growth and development haven't stopped, Mr. Brant said, and more infrastructure is needed.
Further sources of fresh water are under review by the department and the South Florida Water Management District, responsible for surface-water management including the restoration of the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee.
"Communities along the coastlines," Mr. Brant said, "are finding out that for the growth to continue, there's not enough water for them. There's not enough water in the natural system."
Water district officials, he said, want Miami-Dade to be able to manufacture its own water within five years. Mr. Brant said the department would need at least $100 million in revenue bonds to fund expansion.
The county, he said, is considering at least two alternatives - capturing fresh water in surface reservoirs during the rainy season and pumping fresh water deep into the ground for later retrieval.
"Both of those technologies store clean water," he said. "It's a whole lot better than wastewater reuse."
Pharmaceutical residues in wastewater are a concern, he said. "Sewage plants aren't designed to remove all those things."
Desalination, producing freshwater from saltwater, is another alternative for producing fresh water, Mr. Brant said, but the energy costs are tremendous.
"I've just discussed the whole issue with the county manager in detail," he said. "He's asked me to put together a five-year budget forecast."
Once that is accomplished, a proposal will go to the county commission and then to the South Florida Water Management District for approval.
The department has 2,568 employees and operates three sewage plants and three water plants. Water capacity is 450 million gallons a day, and sewage-plant capacity is about 353 million gallons a day.