Emails (excerpted), responses to PolitiFact Texas, Daryl Slusher, assistant director for environmental affairs and conservation, Austin Water Utility, March 28, 2012

2:09 pm, March 28, 2012

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We think that Austin Water likely does come out the highest under Mr. Robbins’ metric, that is when water and wastewater costs are combined and then divided by the total number of gallons. As he notes, however, he is the only one (that he or we know of) who has done this type of calculation. We question the meaningfulness of this methodology. For example it does not account for Austin’s steeply tiered water conservation-based residential rate structure.

On the other hand we acknowledge that Austin Water’s combined rates are among the highest in the state. Austin Water, however, delivers a lot of value for that cost and also delivers on the values of Austin’s citizenry.

More on the value delivered in a moment, but first let’s look at costs compared to other cities in Texas. ...

...Austin is near the top among Texas cities, but not at the top. Corpus Christi, among the Top 10, is higher than Austin. ...

(Some slides compare) Austin Water’s residential rates at different levels of usage. As you can see the rate increases dramatically as usage increases. This is a conservation based rate structure and its utilization is not adequately reflected under the methodology used by Mr. Robbins.

… (Also, consider) Austin’s gallons per capita per day usage since 1990. As you can seen it has dropped dramatically in the last four years (five really, but 2007 was an historically wet year so we don’t count that as a conservation breakthrough). Conservation has numerous benefits, but it does lower revenues. … if Austin Water used Mr. Robbins’ methodology as a metric, ...it would be a disincentive to conservation...

...Please note the list below which helps explain Austin Water’s rates....That is just some of the examples of value that Austin Water delivers for the rates, value that also reflects the values of Austin’s citizenry.

Water

Secured water supply. Invested $100M in 1999 to prepay for raw water and reserve Highland Lakes water through 2050

Negotiated 2007 water partnership to extend to secure water supply through 2100.

Water Treatment Plant 4 is slated to open in 2014, increasing reliability and redundancy while also dramatically lowering energy use in getting water to Austin’s northern and northwestern Desired Development Zone.

Manages 39,000 acres of Wildlands for water quality and endangered species protection.

Wastewater

Aggressive expansion of the reclaimed water system, including the 51st Street Tank, with a Montopolis tank to come next, and reclaimed service recently extended to ABIA.

$4.2 million in this year’s budget for Green Choice to reduce the utility’s carbon footprint and address the water-energy nexus.

Solar roof on Glen Bell Service Center and project underway to power Hornsby Bend Biolsolids/Sludge Treatment Plant with methane from the sludge.

In the 1980s the City did not keep up with growth and one result was the overburdened Williamson Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant and very dirty discharge into the Colorado River. Beginning in the late 1980s the utility made major investments to build a new plant and improve the other to the point that Austin Water now far exceeds its permit requirements -- and the river downstream of the sewage discharge is rated Exceptional under EPA standards.

More recently, under an EPA order, Austin Water spent more than $400 million to fix leaky sewage pipes all over the service area and to move pipes from creek beds.

remote location. I'm cc'g my work account so if you hit reply all I will get it either way.  

2:33 PM, March 28, 2012

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I’m going to try again what I was explaining over the phone about using the simple cost per gallons, like in Mr. Robbins’ report, as a metric would be a disincentive to conservation...

With a water and wastewater utility there is a lot of fixed cost. When conservation is successful that benefits the utility and the city in a number of ways, but successful conservation does mean less revenue. Yes, using less water does lower costs somewhat -- less treatment and delivery costs. These savings, however, could nowhere near offsetting the amount lost in revenue.

By fixed costs I mean that a utility has to have a huge amount of infrastructure in place and has to maintain that infrastructure. I’m talking water plants, wastewater plants, water and wastewater pipes stretching throughout the service area, pump stations, lift stations, maintenance and repair crews, labs, and so on. These costs largely stay in place no matter how much water is used. For example Austin Water has to maintain service to your house no matter how much water you use or conserve and we have to maintain sufficient pressure for fire flow. The same is true for every residence, business, and institution in our service area.

So here’s what I mean when I say that using the average cost per gallon as a metric would be a disincentive for conservation. If our conservation programs had not achieved as much as they have then Austin Water’s cost per gallon in Mr. Robbins’ report would be much lower. So if the metric by which we measure ourselves were the one he uses in his report then there would be a disincentive to conserve. ...

Daryl