Op-Ed Presents Dangerous Narrative on Rate Increases - Truth from the Tap

TFTT Report

Op-Ed Presents Dangerous Narrative on Rate Increases

Like most states, Illinois faces massive and urgent water infrastructure needs. The state’s drinking water infrastructure earned a dismal D+ rating on the 2022 American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Illinois Report Card, while wastewater infrastructure received only a slightly better C- grade.

Clearly the infrastructure needs are great in the state. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that Illinois needs to invest $22 billion over the next 20 years to bring its water infrastructure up to standard. Thankfully, the state’s regulated, private water companies have the expertise and access to capital to help.

One company, Illinois American Water, recently submitted its infrastructure investment plan to state regulators. The plan would fund the replacement of 44 miles of aging water and wastewater pipelines, upgrades to storage tanks, wells, pumping stations, hydrants, meters, and wastewater plants, and ongoing efforts to remove and replace lead service lines for its 1.3 million customers.

In sum, the company is proposing $421 million in drinking water infrastructure upgrades and $136 million in wastewater system upgrades over the next two years alone.  To fund those needs, the average bill would increase $24 per month for drinking water and $5 per month for wastewater. Illinois American provides a superior product to its customers and the proposed increases will go a long way to ensure that continues.

While state regulators at the Illinois Commerce Commission will review the plan and approve only what funds are necessary to provide safe drinking water and reliable services, some voices are prematurely pushing a dangerous narrative that any and all rate increases are unwarranted and should be stopped.

In an op-ed in the News-Gazette, one local commentator criticizes the rate increases, arguing that the local government “should have bought and operated the local water system” run by Illinois American long ago. Evidently the writer does not realize that rate increases are driven by infrastructure needs, not system ownership model.  No matter the owner, the system would require investments to maintain reliable service, deliver high-quality water, and meet ever-increasing environmental regulations.

Without investment, water systems deteriorate, leading to service disruptions and water quality issues. According to EPA data, 58 drinking water systems in Illinois have had at least one health-based water quality violation since 2020.  These systems serve 111,408 people.  Further ASCE reports that the number of Illinois water systems in violation of U.S. EPA drinking water standards has increased significantly since 2018. Underinvesting in water and wastewater systems will not make any improvement to these facts.

To be sure, the concern over rising costs is legitimate, and many households struggle to pay their water and wastewater bills.  But the solution is not to forego necessary infrastructure needs. We have seen the results of this in other communities – unsafe water and/or sewage polluting our waterways. The solution is to provide assistance to those customers who need it.

That’s why NAWC and its member companies, alongside 150 water associations, environmental groups, low-income advocates, and public officials, have called for funding for the federal Low Income Household Water Assistance Program (LIHWAP). Further, it’s also why NAWC member companies in Illinois and across the country offer customer assistance programs to keep water flowing to financially disadvantaged households.

Bottom line, blindly criticizing rate increases is unwise and dangerous. Illinois is fortunate to have water companies with the expertise and capacity to address critical water infrastructure needs.

Return to TFTT Report →