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Champaign, Urbana intervening to combat American Water’s request to raise rates for residential customers

Luis Velazquez / For CU-CitizenAccess

The mayors of the cities of Champaign and Urbana say the cities are filing documents to intervene in the efforts of Illinois American Water to increase water rates up to 32% next year.

Illinois American Water filed a request in February with the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) to make the increase water and wastewater rates.

The request includes $948 million in water system improvements and about $204 million in wastewater system improvements throughout the state of Illinois — making it an investment plan costing more than $1.1 billion. 

Mayor of Champaign Deb Feinen said the city has filed a case to intervene the request from Illinois American Water.

“In Champaign-Urbana, we handle our own wastewater, we have a Sanitary District. So I think our concern is our consumers having a rate increase to pay for, in part, wastewater handling improvements, when we’re not gonna benefit from those improvements,” Feinen said.

https://www.amwater.com/ilaw/customer-service-billing/your-water-and-wastewater-rates/

Thomas Yu, assistant attorney of Champaign, said the case was docketed in March. Yu said he hopes Champaign intervening with the request will provide transparency with Illinois American Water’s decisions.

City of Urbana Mayor Diane Marlin said before she was mayor in 2017, the city council and members of the community made efforts to protest the increase in water rates at that time. In 2017, a request to increase rates by 15% was approved by the ICC. 

Rates increased by 40% in 2003 and increased by another 26% in 2010.

Marlin expects the City of Urbana, along with the community, to intervene to combat this recent request from Illinois American Water.

According to a press release, the monthly water service bill for the typical residential customer using 3,500 gallons per month with a 5/8-inch meter would increase between $6 and $14 per month, depending on the service area. 

The typical residential wastewater bill would increase between $7 and $17 per month, depending on the service area. 

After an 11-month review process, the ICC will make a decision in 2023. 

Citizens Utility Board Communications Director Jim Chilsen said this request puts Illinois American Water customers at risk with financial hardships. The Citizens Utility Board represents consumers in the state and “fight utility rate hikes, promote clean energy, and advocate for consumer protections in Illinois.”

“It could be a real hardship for consumers considering that we’re recovering from a pandemic and that consumers are already paying higher electric and natural gas bills,” Chilsen said.

American-Water-02.28.22-Proposed-Rate-Increase

In the Champaign County District, the American Water proposal includes over $105 million in investment which has been or will be completed between 2018 and 2023. The Champaign County District serves customers directly in Champaign, Urbana, St. Joseph, Bondville, Sidney, Sadorus, Savoy, Pesotum and Fisher.

The Champaign County residential water service bill for Illinois American Water customers using 3,500 gallons a month with a 5/8-inch meter would change from $50.36 a month to $59.95, according to Illinois American Water spokesperson Karen Cotton. 

Cotton said the main driver for the rate change request is to upgrade water and wastewater systems. 

“We are trying to make sure they are transparent with their process and their reasons for their cost increases,” the assistant attorney for Champaign, Thomas Yu, said.

He said they are challenging the request but realistically the commission will grant a rate increase to some extent.

Utility Board Director Chilsen said Illinois American Water has a reputation for increasing utility rates for their customers. 

A 2017 Chicago Tribune analysis found that Illinois American Water and another private water company, Aqua Illinois, charged customers 20% to 70% more than municipal system customers. 

Passed in 2013, the Illinois Water Systems Viability Act allowed Aqua Illinois and Illinois American Water to buy municipal water systems and charge their customers to cover the cost of the acquisition.

There are currently 37 locations that approve Illinois American Water and Aqua Illinois to buy their municipal water systems, such as Sadorus and Sidney. The Citizens Utility Board tracks water privatization on its website.

The utility board is currently reviewing the request case and discussing it with other consumer advocates to bring light to this ongoing issue.

Luis Velazquez / For CU-CitizenAccess

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