DPUC proposes more than 25 percent water rate increase over six - KBJR 6 Your Weather Authority: News, Weather & Sports

DPUC proposes more than 25 percent water rate increase over six years

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The Duluth Public Utilities Commission (DPUC) has proposed a resolution calling for water rate hikes of more than 25 percent over the next six years. 

"We have to raise millions of dollars," said Noah Hobbs, a member of the commission. 

Duluth taxpayers may expect to see an increase in their water bills starting January 2018. 

"The city's water system is in a state of disrepair," said Eric Shaffer, the city's chief engineer for utilities.

Between 2018 and 2023, a 4.7 percent hike in water rates could help fund the replacement of the city's deteriorating water infrastructure based on a resolution proposed by the DPUC. 

Hobbs said the material that was used to repair water mains between 1960 and 1980 isn't holding up as expected.

"It has put a significant burden financially on how we do that just because we made this investment assuming we'd have a 60 year lifespan," said Hobbs. "Did not get 60 years out of it."

Which leads to today's current state of the infrastructure.

Shaffer said, "the amount of water main breaks we've been having starting back in the 80's have just continued to increase exponentially."

It costs the city nearly $7,000 to fix a break in one day, according to Shaffer.

"Problem is is that we have pipes that literally break two, three, four times a summer and so that happens every single year," said Shaffer. "Now all of a sudden, you have ten, 15, 20 breaks on the same pipe, and now we need to replace them." 

To help alleviate that cost, the six-year plan, based on the flat rate increase, calculates that an elderly couple will pay an extra $27, and a family of four would pay nearly $81 over the span of the plan. 

Hobbs said, "it would actually double, over double, our investment into infrastructure over water lines and water mains."

However, the proposed numbers could change.

"It would be revisited annually by the public utilities commission, and so while there is a six year number that gets us to what we need to have to invest in our water infrastructure but it's not set in stone," Hobbs reassured.

Next month, the DPUC will hold a public process so members of the public can voice their concerns. They will then consider public input, and possibly make changes before presenting a plan to the city council. The group is hoping for approval from the city council by the end of this year. 

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