We all pay our utility bills, but do you know where that money goes?
Revenue from utility bills funds operation of a multi-billion-dollar infrastructure system, including projects to preserve and sustain the quality of life in Boulder.
City Council recently discussed an increase in utility rates for 2022, but what is that money used for?
Utilities are key to the safety and health of the Boulder community. City Council reviews utility rates annually to ensure the city can support the increasing costs to maintain and improve Boulder’s aging infrastructure, provide clean drinking water, keep our wastewater facility running and maintain water mains, sewers, the stormwater system and flood mitigation projects. Rate increases go into effect in January. For 2023, the average residential utility bill will rise by $7.60 per month. By paying your utility bill, you are supporting the Boulder community and funding a vast array of critical needs.
What do the different type of water utilities mean?
The three utilities you pay into are the Water Utility, Wastewater Utility and the Stormwater and Flood Management Utility.
Here’s what each of those utilities do:
Drinking Water: A key component to the Water Utility is safe, clean low-cost drinking water. Water is essential to public health and community vitality. Part of your Water Utility fee funds Boulder’s two drinking water treatment facilities, which produce approximately 5300 million gallons of clean drinking water for the Boulder community every year.
Despite this extensive infrastructure, the city provides water at the low cost of 44 glasses of water for a penny. Reinvestment in the system promotes generational equity so that our children and future community members have access to the same or a better system than we have today.
Drinking Water Quality: Your utility fees support weekly, quarterly and annual water quality monitoring and reporting to ensure the city’s potable water is safe to drink. Going above and beyond regulatory requirements, the city proactively monitors over 450 water quality parameters. The vast majority of these compounds are not detected in the city’s drinking water. Staff also plan and implement projects to protect source water supplies and the drinking water distribution system.
Water Infrastructure: A recent study estimated that over the next 25 years the United States must invest more than $1 trillion in underground water infrastructure. Locally, work continues on the Barker Gravity Pipeline, which delivers about one third of the city’s source water. This infrastructure is over 100 years old, and complete replacement is planned over a 12-year period. A recent city study identified +50 capital projects valued over $450M to address aging water infrastructure. Other projects help to maintain water system service goals, resolve operational challenges and increase water supply resiliency during planned and unplanned outages. The city continues to invest in critical needs to deliver safe drinking water and fire protection to the Boulder community.
Most of the city’s sanitary sewer lines are at least 60 years old. Maintaining and rehabilitating these lines is a key area of focus for the Wastewater Utility. The city also manages the Industrial Pretreatment Program to monitor non-domestic sources of sanitary waste and prevent pollutants from entering the sanitary system that could pass through the treatment system into surface water.
Wastewater treatment is an essential and mandatory function in Boulder, necessary for public health and environmental protection. At the Water Resources Recovery Facility (WRRF):
All of Boulder’s wastewater is treated to exceed minimum permit criteria, which results in a high-quality return of water to Boulder Creek.
The WRRF Laboratory processes almost 4,000 samples annually to ensure regulatory compliance and support wastewater treatment optimization.
Biosolids are generated and reused in agriculture, improving crop growth and yield.
Biogas is recovered, offset to renewable natural gas and used as a fuel for trash, recycling and compost vehicles in place of traditional diesel fuel, which helps support Boulder’s climate goals.
The WRRF is funded by the Wastewater Utility Fee. Originally constructed in 1968, the WRRF is a complex, industrial facility valued at $300M. A critical facility of this size and scale needs to be maintained in many areas, including rehabilitation and replacement of aging infrastructure, regulatory compliance and capacity.
Stormwater and Flood Management Utility:
Boulder has a history of flooding and is the number one flood risk in the state. The city recently updated its Comprehensive Flood and Stormwater master plan to meet the latest floodplain regulations and to develop a framework to prioritize the flood projects and to incorporate a focus on equity, including the maintenance of 16 major drainageways, 160 miles of pipes and 4,800 catch basins. The Stormwater and Flood Management Utility fee supports flood and stormwater infrastructure, stormwater quality, and education programs.
A portion of the fees fund general maintenance
Utilities maintains water distribution, wastewater collection, stormwater, flood and greenways infrastructure and provides water meter, utility locate and public space reclamation services. It is also critical for system upkeep and emergency services related to each of the three utilities.
If you are experiencing financial hardship or find it difficult to pay your utility bill due to COVID, assistance is available. Learn more here.