On May 12, commuters heading home for the weekend faced major flooding on I-64 following a severe water main break. While the City’s Water Division has rerouted water and is working as quickly as possible to fully repair the break, these efforts are only a band-aid over a long-festering problem that threatens the operation and maintenance of St. Louis’ 1,300 miles of water mains, 15,500 fire hydrants, and 26,000 valves. From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
[Director of Public Utilities Curt Skouby] says the bigger challenge, though, is that the city urgently needs to upgrade aging water pipes, like the one that broke — and lacks the money to do it. “This is probably more to do with aging infrastructure than anything,” Skouby said.
“...Long term, we need some investment in our system,” said Skouby. “(Rate increases) are just not popular to do, but we’re at the point where it has to be done.”
The Board of Aldermen last took action to properly fund the Water Division almost thirteen years ago in 2010. Deferred maintenance as well as the rising cost of supplies and labor have resulted in much-needed repairs that surpass available funding, and the Water Division is barely staying afloat using dwindling reserve funds. Kicking the can further down the road is no longer an option for a city that enjoys the best-tasting water in the country.
At the Board of Aldermen is BB 49, which proposes a phased-in water rate increase to provide for basic, day-to-day operations of the Water Department including key infrastructure repairs. The Post-Dispatch spoke to a resident impacted by May’s line break who supports the idea and the need for reliable maintenance and operations:
In one yard, resident Sara Heisel had to adjust the position of her garden’s sprinkler by hand, since she said the reduced water pressure meant it couldn’t arc back and forth on its own, like normal. She added that she wouldn’t mind paying the city’s targeted rate increase, if it meant staving off issues of water reliability in the future.
“It can really throw you for a loop if you need to go to work and you can’t take a shower,” she said.
BB 49 proposes an average rate increase of $5 a month, or a total of $15 a quarter, beginning in July 2023, as well as another $5 monthly increase in January 2024. The bill also includes a provision tying any future adjustment to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) to prevent any similar procrastination from occurring in the future. The average quarterly water rate (currently $75) will remain below St. Louis County’s ($158) and Kansas City’s ($202). Residents in need of support in paying their water bill can contact the State of Missouri’s Low-Income Household Waters Assistance Program.
The Board of Aldermen Public Infrastructure and Utilities Committee will hear the bill this afternoon at 3:30pm. The committee will be livestreamed on the City of St. Louis’ Youtube page.