SPRINGFIELD — For the third time since 2008, the Illinois American Water Co. has been awarded a rate increase by the Illinois Commerce Commission.
A typical residential customer in the water company's Champaign district who uses 4,500 gallons now will pay about $39.53 a month, according to the company.
Five years ago, when the water company filed the first in the series of water rate increase cases, it said the typical customer used 6,000 gallons and paid $25.28 monthly.
On a per-gallon basis, the latest increase means that rates have more than doubled in five years, from about fourth-tenths of a cent per gallon in September 2007 to nearly nine-tenths of a cent per gallon when the rate increase goes into effect on Oct. 1.
"Our typical customer has changed," said Karen Cotton, a spokeswoman for the water company. "Our typical customer is using less water, and low-flow toilets and sink adapters, so that results in lower usage."
But she insisted that customers are not getting penalized for conserving water.
"That's actually not the case," she said. "It's really important to conserve our precious water resources, but it's also important to realize that we have fixed costs. While we are using conservation efforts, it's important to realize we have the same infrastructure requirements to get the water to your home. You're going to need that same infrastructure every time you turn on the tap, or if you open a hydrant to fight a fire."
The rate increase, approved earlier this week by the ICC, means a Champaign district customer will pay about $2.33 more per month, or $28 a year, according to Illinois American Water.
The Champaign district includes a population of about 142,000 in Champaign, Urbana, Savoy, Tolono, St. Joseph, Pesotum and Bondville.
The company had filed with the ICC for a $38 million rate increase request last October, a figure subsequently reduced to about $35 million. The ICC action should allow the company to earn $17.9 million more a year.
Ongoing enhancement and maintenance of infrastructure to ensure reliable water treatment and delivery systems are the main reasons for the rate change, according to the company. The new rates reflect approximately $180 million in infrastructure investment statewide, and approximately $17.9 million in the Champaign district.
"Upgrades made in the water treatment and delivery systems enhance water quality, service reliability and fire protection for customers," said Ron Smith, senior operations manager in the water company's Champaign district.
Locally, the $17.9 million in investments includes replacing and installing fire hydrants, valves, meters and more than 4 miles of water main. Upgrades were also made at the Mattis Avenue water treatment plant to ensure reliability and enhance water quality. A new booster station was installed to enhance water pressure as well as meet water demands. The booster station uses energy-saving technology through the installation of variable frequency drive motors. The equipment ensures improved motor operational efficiencies when supplying the current pumping demands.
"Water is a critical part of everyday life and a strong economy," said Smith. "We work with communities we serve to make sure we are providing high-quality water service that meets their needs and, at the same time, controlling our costs wherever possible."
Customers needing assistance paying their water bills can access the company's H2O Help to Others program. The Salvation Army administers the program. Customers are urged to contact their local Salvation Army if they need assistance. Information is available at http://www.illinoisamwater.com .