Expanded version of the article printed in the Pittsburgh newsweekly    Pulp     Volume 01 Number 04     11 April 2002

I've been thinking.. about
how we're billed for water and its use

Whether we want to conserve water because it is the environmentally beneficial thing to do,
or because we want to keep our water bill as low as possible, or perhaps both --have you noticed
it may be difficult to keep rather close track of how much water a household uses? -and thus how much water/use we are actually paying for?

If you're served by the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (P.W.S.A.), you probably know that the cost of water/use just increased, and will increase again in 2003. For a residence, we are now billed $9.32 for the first 1000 gallons, and buried in this charge is what some other water suppliers bill separately as a basic service or connection charge.

We are billed $4.34 per additional 1000 gallons (increasing to $4.64 per additional 1000 gal. in 2003).
Included in these charges is a sewer-use rate of $0.59/1000 gal. (increasing to $0.63 /1000 in 2003).

Note that we are billed per 1000 gallons, NOT per fraction of 1000 gallons.
Therefore, for example, if you use less than 1000 gallons (-or for that matter let's say 9,100 gallons) per month, you are charged for 1000 gallons (-or 10,000 gallons, respectively).
In this example year, you would be billed for 1000 x 12=12,000 gallons
(-or respectively, 10,000 x 12 = 120,000 gallons).

--Not only are you billed for water you do not use, but you pay the P.W.S.A. sewer-use rate for water you do not use, AND since ALCOSAN (Allegheny County Sanitary Authority [water treatment]) charges you according to your P.W.S.A. water-use, you pay for treatment of water you have not used.

Further, we as a residential customers, pay more per additional 1000 gallons of water than Commercial and Industrial customers; curiously, the highest rates are charged to "Health and Educational Facilities".

Is this bass-ackwards or what?
Industrial users and Commercial users ( two classes of water-users among whose ranks have historically been some of the most abusive and polluting users), pay less -per unit of use-
than Residential users or Educational and Health users. Where is the real incentive for industrial
and commercial users to conserve and/or re-cycle water?

In fact, where in this whole water-billing schema is the real incentive for anyone to -conserve- water?

Personally, I began noticing my water bill after the P.W.S.A. installed the new meter reading system upgrade on all water meters in 2000. The new automatic-sending units eliminate every-other-month "Estimated" billing. At that time I decided to try to be more conscientious of my household water use.

Just recently I noticed that although I certainly used water, the bill indicated -0- use, and had the same charge as last time (with the added increase + the pro-rated amount (also for some water I didn't use)). This is when I really learned they only bill by the 1000-gallon quantity, whether a full 1000 gal. is used or not.

Enough is enough, isn't it? I have no objection to paying my own way, but I'm not happy paying for sewer-use, water-treatment, and water I have not used. Considering the number of customers, the 1000-gallon base measure, the inter-dependence between sewer-use [P.W.S.A.] and treatment [ALCOSAN] charges, how much money is being collected for water never used by residential customers -or for that matter by all P.W.S.A. and ALSOSAN customers?
I doubt there is some nefarious scheme going on, but doesn't it seem that someone should take a seriously critical look at the bookkeeping and data-acquisition when it comes to water-use billing, (not only here, but in many places across the country) --and set things right and equal for everyone?

Conservation aside, although we in the City may have an apparent abundance of water because of the river source, each customer still has to pay for the water used, the sewer-use, -and the treatment by ALCOSAN.

Is it too much to expect that increased automation of the reading and billing processes should provide for everyone to be billed much more closely to their actual quantity used and thereafter treated? - and that those who chose to conserve natural resources and /or their financial resources, as well, should not be penalized for trying to do so?

The Public Utilities commission (P.U.C.) has no jurisdiction over municipal water suppliers.
How DO Pittsburgh residents control water-billing methods in the City?
Who is responsible to whom?
If there isn't, perhaps there oughtta be a law....

Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority Rates
P.W.S.A. minimum rates rates 2002 P.W.S.A. rates 2003

some rates from an informal "survey"
informal survey data

(c) 2002 --paul j. sentner-- Iíve been thinking about water billing :1-13 April 2002

E-mail/Feedback: psentner@city-net.com The URL of this page is: http://www.city-net.com/~psentner/h2o_bill 20 April 2002