'Unintended consequences': Decrease in water usage drives up costs

EUGENE, Ore. - Eugene Water and Electric Board commissioners are weighing a possible rate increase on utilities for 2013 that would cost a typical customer an extra $15 a month.

As of now a possible increase breaks down to an 8 percent increase for electricity and 30 percent for water.

EWEB says the reasoning behind rising water costs is a 20 percent decrease in consumer consumption over the past four years.

"The problem with declining water consumption is we have really high fixed costs," said Joe Harwood, a spokesperson for EWEB. "Fixed costs to maintain 800 miles of distributions pipes, a water treatment facility and more than two dozen reservoirs."

Harwood said EWEB needs to raise the costs of water to make up for the loss in consumption so they can pay to continue to run their water facilities.

Some customers understand the increase.

"My first reaction is I was unhappy about that but the more I think about that I think they have to cover their costs," Jerry Oltion of Eugene said. "You know its a public utility, its not EWEB against us. EWEB is us."

Not everyone agrees. Others see the rate hike as a bad time for people during the tough economy.

"Fifteen dollars will be the difference for some people to buy milk for their kids, to put gas in their car, to have their heat turned on," Aloha Heart of Eugene said.

Harwood agreed the timing is bad and knows some customers will struggle to adjust to new costs.

"Right now we are still trying to crawl our way out of a recession," Harwood said. "It's even more difficult to raise rates especial for those who are on fixed incomes."