La Marque leaders are right in taking steps to improve a badly leaking municipal water system.
They have no choice but to act, even though doing so might be financially painful for water customers.
The hard fact, however, is the city, like many others, is in a pay-now or pay-later situation and waiting might cost more and be more burdensome to residents than acting decisively now.
There are two problems, city leaders said during a meeting this week.
One is an aged system that loses about half the water that passes through it.
“The city of La Marque has had aging infrastructure and lost a lot of water over the years,” Mayor Keith Bell said.
“That’s estimated at 50 percent loss in total today. Normal water loss runs anywhere from 15 to 20 percent, and anything over that is due to leaks somewhere.”
The city also has an outdated rate schedule. It hasn’t enacted a significant increase in what it charges for water since 2011. That’s more than 10 years, of course, and the city’s costs to buy water have done nothing but go up over those years.
In response, the city is considering significant increases in water rates, which would allow it to raise money and invest in improving the water system, Bell said.
The water rate now for residential and multi-family users is $8.53 for up to 1,000 gallons of water, according to the city.
The proposed rates for residential and multi-family users is $16.50 for each 1,000 gallons of water up to and including 2,000 gallons, an increase of almost 95 percent.
Residential and multi-family users of 2,001 gallons of water to 5,000 gallons would pay a flat fee of $7 a month plus $16.50 for each 1,000 gallons of water.
Residential and multi-family users of 5,001 to 10,000 gallons would pay $8.50 plus $16.50 for each 1,000 gallons.
Finally, residential and multi-family users of 10,001 or more would pay a $10 flat fee plus $16.50 for each 1,000 gallons.
Those increases are enough for people to feel, and some council members are understandably reluctant to act.
Some advocated phasing in the rate increases, rather than making up for a 10-year gap all in one jump.
That might be good a compromise, but neither city leaders nor residents should delude themselves into thinking this problem can be kicked very far down the road.
Texas is the fastest growing state in the nation. One consequence of that is swiftly increasing demand for water.
The price of water is going up, that’s just inevitable. No city can afford to lose 50 percent of that increasingly expensive commodity. That is actually pouring money down a hole.
It might be cold comfort, but La Marque is hardly alone with this problem.
In fact, badly leaking water systems are more often the rule than the exception in cities of any age.
The city of Galveston, for example, in 2019 launched a five-year program meant to reduce its water loss by about 220 million gallons a year — from 1 billion to 780 million gallons annually.
The city was losing about $2.5 million a year because of leaks at the time.
And Galveston is hardly an outlier.
The Chicago-based Center for Neighborhood Technology, a nonprofit focused on sustainability, in 2014 reported about 6 billion gallons of water was being lost to leaking systems every day in the United States.
Across the country, about 2.1 trillion gallons was being lost to leaking systems each year, researchers told National Public Radio at the time.
Raising money to attack that problem is the right thing to do financially, ethically and environmentally.
The council is expected to consider the rate increases on Nov. 21.
Leaders should consider ways to soften the blow to ratepayers and seek grants and other assistance, but ultimately people in La Marque must shoulder the burden.
• Michael A. Smith