Despite higher rates, Galveston has been bringing in less water revenue, in large part because a high amount of rain, leading residents touse less.
Although this fluctuation is often part of the normal cycles, the decrease in revenue comes during a year the city already is cutting costs and tightening budgets.
Galveston has gotten 15.99 more inches of rain this fiscal year than it did last year by this time, 41.8 inches as opposed to 25.81 inches in 2018, according to National Weather Service data.
The wettest month last fiscal year was September, which brought 24.32 inches of rain to the island, according to the data.
The city is budgeting for $20.7 million in water revenues next year, according to the proposed budget. Around $20.7 million is also what the city expects to collect in 2019, but the city originally planned for $21.1 million in revenues, according to the budget.
In the 2018 fiscal year, the city collected $22.6 million in water revenues, according to the budget.
The city raised its water rates 7 percent in January.
When the island gets heavy or frequent rains, residents don’t need to use as much city-provided water to irrigate their lawns, Finance Director Mike Loftin said.
“There is also some suspicion that tourism is being affected this year by the excess amount of rainfall received,” Loftin said. “This apparent lower level of occupancy is also likely affecting water consumption by hotels and restaurants during the heavy water-use months.”
This weather effect is pretty common for municipalities, said Brandon Wade, general manager of the Gulf Coast Water Authority.
The special district sells water from the Brazos River to area municipalities, including Galveston.
“Water consumption by a municipality or water district is impacted by a number of issues, including water loss through leaking infrastructure, population fluctuations, weather and conservation and efficiency measures,” Wade said.
People should expect rates to continue increasing as water becomes more limited, Wade said.
Resident Mark Foster expects that to happen, too, he said. Foster has noticed his monthly water bill increase from about $130 to $150, he said.
“My usage has stayed the same,” Foster said.
He wouldn’t be surprised to see prices continue to rise though, he said.
The city’s water rate structure is progressive, Assistant City Manager Brandon Cook said.
“The bigger the meter and the more water used, the more one pays per unit basis,” Cook said. “However, there is a minimum base charge that gets assessed regardless of the amount of water used to maintain the entire system.”
That base amount is determined, in part, by the fixed costs.
The system has about $19.5 million in fixed costs for water rights, construction and maintenance, Loftin said.
There’s really no way to make sure costs offset revenues every year, Loftin said.
“Rates are set such that the city breaks even in a normal year, has revenue in excess of costs in a dry year and costs in excess of revenue in a wet year,” Loftin said.
Galveston, like other cities, has also been encouraging conservation, which could be contributing to declined revenues, he said.