The Liberty Lake Sewer and Water District is a Special Purpose District owned by our rate payers. We rely solely upon utility rates to cover the cost of the services we provide. Sewer and water utilities are operated as separate enterprises, have different operation and debt service costs, and consequently have different rates. We will discuss the impact to the rates for water and sewer individually below. We frequently conduct water and sewer rate studies to be sure our assessments are sufficient to cover operation and maintenance expenses, future replacement, and debt service costs. Rates are also directly correlated to the level of service. We strive for the lowest rates possible while maintaining the highest level of service expected by our customers. We are always available to answer any questions; please do not hesitate to contact us at 509-922-5443.
A formal water rate study was last performed by an independent third party in 2015; rates had remained unchanged since 1994. As a result, the District Board of Commissioners supported 10% base water rate increases 2016 to 2018 to adequately cover the actual cost of operation and maintenance. In 2021, the base water rate for irrigation was aligned with the domestic water rate and the District Board of Commissioners supported a one-time 10% increase of water consumption rates (the first such increase since 1994).
Base water rates were adjusted based upon an inflationary measure (CPI-U West) 2019 to 2021, 2%, 2.6%, and 1.6%, respectively. In 2022, and using this same inflationary measure, base water and consumption rates were adjusted 5.3%.
The District will continue to propose annual rate increases for both base water and consumption sufficient to cover the actual cost of operation and maintenance. The District will only increase rates to the degree necessary to cover costs, conducting water utility rate studies as needed.
A formal sewer rate study was last performed by an independent third party in 2012 in anticipation of Department of Ecology (DOE) unfunded mandated upgrade to our Water Reclamation Facility (WRF) necessary to meet the increasingly stringent water quality standards set by DOE for the District’s permitted discharge of reclaimed water into the Spokane River. As a result, the District Board of Commissioners supported 10% annual sewer rate increases 2015 to 2019, and 5% 2020 to 2021. In 2022 sewer rates were adjusted based upon an inflationary measure (CPI-U West) 5.3%.
The primary cost driver for the sewer utility rate is the unfunded mandates imposed upon the District by DOE. In 2006, the DOE mandated a $12.5M unfunded upgrade to the WRF to reduce Phosphorus discharge, resulting in increased operating costs and average annual debt service obligations of $390K through 2024. In 2016, the DOE mandated a $22.7M unfunded upgrade to the WRF to further reduce Phosphorus discharge, resulting in a 110% increase to operating costs and additional annual debt service obligations of $1.12M through 2038.
All wastewater dischargers to the Spokane River in both Washington and Idaho will upgrade their facilities similar to the District (tertiary treatment), if they haven’t already. One factor somewhat unique to the District is our small customer base of only 4,896, resulting in the per customer share of expense to be higher than for larger facilities. In 2022, $25.36 (37%) of the $70.11 monthly sewer rate is required to service debt obligations of the unfunded WRF upgrades mandated by DOE.
The District will continue to propose annual rate increases for sewer sufficient to cover the actual cost of operation and maintenance. The District will only increase rates to the degree necessary to cover costs, conducting sewer utility rate studies as needed. The District will continue to communicate the impact of unfunded mandates to customers through our newsletter, the District website, customer statements, and the Liberty Lake Splash.