Paying the Piper: NTMWD Water Pricing Model

Wylie water woes. Now there's an alliteration you need to try saying really fast without feeling like Elmer Fudd.

If you have not heard about the North Texas Municipal Water District (NTMWD) issue, your pocketbook soon will. They are the entity that controls our water in Wylie, among other cities, making them pretty easy to hate on, particularly if you do not like your steadily increasing water bill.

Does anyone remember the days of $43 monthly water bills from the City of Wylie? I do. We were never ones to dump water needlessly into the lawn, so yes, I will indeed revel in your jealousy. But still, mine are more than twice that now and our water use has gone down this year. Especially now that the youngest child unit is away, showering at college, and because he took his rather large wardrobe with him resulting in less frequent climbs of the infamous Mount Laundry.

We know that costs are rising. We get it. But should we expect to take a nitroglycerin before opening future water bills? What gives?

Late last year several member cities flexed some muscle in an attempt to break from their responsibility to the whole. NTMWD serves dozens of communities, with 13 member cities making up the board, and four of those cities are about to cause the rest of us some heartache.

Plano, Richardson, Garland and Mesquite have made a complaint to the Public Utility Commission (PUC) on how the NTMWD sets their water pricing, in hopes they will not be held accountable to pay their fair share. Sorry, but that's the only way I see it.

Nobody likes the rates NTMWD doles out. They pass increases on to cities, who in turn, pass them on to homeowners, but what would happen if these cities, with the help of the PUC, break with NTMWD's take-or-pay pricing model?

We keep hearing this "take-or-pay" phrase, so what exactly is it? When member cities contract with the NTMWD, it requires an immense amount of infrastructure, and debt taken on for each city as it grows. The cities are contractually bound by take-or-pay, whereby their rate is set using the highest year of water usage they have had. It doesn't matter if they use less, if they don't use it, they still have to pay for it. That's take-or-pay.

It doesn't sound fair, or helpful toward water conservation efforts, but when you consider the costs required to bring a city on during their divide and conquer stage, that is a huge financial undertaking. So is the necessary continuing maintenance. The services committed by NTMWD don't end with simple water usage.

To see the reasoning behind their complaint, we can look at one member city. Plano's highest use year was 2001. Now that they are using less water, through conservation efforts, they believe they should have their rate reduced. Plano claims to have spent $78 million for water they have not used since 2001.

Oh sure, the take-or-pay system was favorable to Plano, Richardson, Garland and Mesquite during their peak growth phase, but now that they are generally built-out , the massive infrastructure costs and maintenance still need to be paid by somebody.

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Let's not forget the $300 million pipeline that had to be built to stop the spread of zebra mussels, and to return water flow from Lake Texoma to Lavon. During the height of our last drought, the flow from Texoma was turned off because of the little rascals, and because of federal law that prohibits transporting them across state lines. Turns out the pumping station in Texoma was on the Oklahoma side.

It was a healthy cost that went into returning the flow, but that is of no concern to these member cities who appear to be hyper-focused on water usage in their argument to the PUC.

When looking solely at water usage, it is easy to show how "unfairly" they are being charged. Yet what about the other, smaller member cities who are still growing? Is it fair to stick them with the infrastructure bill? The fact is, somebody has to pay the piper.

Member cities have been in talks about this situation for the past year. The other member cities include Allen, Farmersville, Forney, Frisco, McKinney, Princeton, Rockwall, Royce City and Wylie. Though they have been unsuccessful in finding a solution so far, was it right for the larger bullies to pull in the PUC at this stage? Absolutely not. Surely there is a way for member cities to work things out without being pitting against each other. This was a very disappointing turn of events.

Our best hope is that the member cities roll up their sleeves and find a solution, and we must encourage them to do so. Board meetings are held the fourth Thursday of each month at 4:00 p.m. in the board room, located at 501 East Brown Street, in Wylie. If NTMWD is forced to change their pricing model to accommodate the larger member cities, you can rest assured that your water costs in Wylie will triple, if not quadruple.

Header image: Express Tribune