Treating wastewater is complex, using sophisticated biological systems, multiple filters, and modern disinfection methods.
So why does your sewer part of the monthly bill cost more than water usage?
The Short Answer:
It is easier and cheaper to treat lake water to make it drinkable than to treat the community’s wastewater (industrial, commercial, and residential) and make it clean enough to reintroduce into a creek or river.
Water leaving the plant must be free of harmful pollutants to protect fish, turtles, birds, and other creatures that depend on the creek.
Below is a step-by-step guide for turning lake water into potable or drinking water.
And here are the steps to turn your wastewater into creek-able water.
There are more steps to the wastewater treatment process than water treatment process.
Charlotte Water (CLTWater) only uses water meters to measure usage, so wastewater usage is calculated based on that water usage up to a limit or cap.
Energy and chemical costs are higher for wastewater treatment processes, hence the higher cost for wastewater treatment vs. water treatment on a water bill.
The cost to treat wastewater and meet federal regulations continues to increase. Our goal is to always meet and exceed regulations to ensure cleaner water goes into our creeks.
Stop right here if you’re satisfied! The Longer Answer gets a bit technical about how your billing works.
The Longer Answer:
CLTWater pays for water and wastewater services via usage and billing fees, not taxes (contrary to popular belief). CLTWater posted the official Revenue Manualthat details all fees.
How can I help reduce my water / sewer bill and rate increases? Toss all trash in the trashcan, not down a drain. Did you know that ‘flushable’ wipes clog pipes and require manually pulling them out of pumps? Wipes can cause expensive repairs and maintenance.
Charlotte is a rapidly growing city, in an equally rapidly expanding region. Investments in vital resources and infrastructure will not only support that growth but allow everyone to have a quality of life that is only capable through access to a safe, clean and reliable water system. Each of the 1,200 Charlotte Water system employees work hard to support that vision. Charlotte Water does this by increasing capacity through improvement and enhancement projects and by working 24/7/365 to maintain, repair and replace foundational infrastructure across the region.
Why are Water Rates Increasing?
Charlotte Water is legally required to operate as a “cost-of-service provider.” This means, as a utility, CLTWater must strictly use fees and rates to support, maintainand grow the water system. That requires us to operate as good water stewards and as a business operation that does not make a profit, but also can not legally operate at a loss.
Charlotte Water does not use property tax or sales tax to operate or fund capital improvements. The Charlotte Water system is supported entirely by water and sewer rates and fees paid by customers. Each dollar in rates has a specific purpose in how it goes to work in the water system. These rates allow Charlotte Water to:
Provide clean, safe and reliable drinking water
Maintain more than 9,000 miles of water and wastewater pipes
Rehabilitate, replace, and invest in aging infrastructure
Exceed regulatory requirements
Support regional growth
Safely transport and treat wastewater
To achieve this, each year, Charlotte Water systematically evaluates its existing infrastructure, upcoming capital needs (such as capacity), and other industry and economic variables. This helps determine if a rate adjustment is necessary. Potential adjustments are presented to the City Council, explaining how each dollar will be used and where it will go. If City Council approves, the new rates typically go into effect in July of that year. “FY,” or fiscal year, is identified as July of the current year into June of the following year.
For FY2024, (July 2023- June 2024) Charlotte Water rates will increase an average of 4.25% , which equals approximately a $3.10monthly increase for average Charlotte Water residential customer bills.
To learn more about the 2024 rates and fees, visit our webpage.
How are Rate Adjustments Decided/Calculated?
CLTWater uses a nationally-recognized rate consultant to evaluate and audit our rate model. This complex model uses many variables, such as regulatory, personnel, industry costs, etc., to create a ten-year projection.
Capital Improvement Plan
A large part of rates are used towards investing and funding Charlotte Water’s Capital Improvement Projects (CIP). Each year, CLTWater identifies and prioritizes several projects that are needed within a five-year period. Projects selected must meet certain requirements, such as fulfilling capacity needs, supporting future development, or improving the quality of life for the community.
The goal of the CIP is to:
Line up with CLTWater’s Mission and Vision to serve customers
Identify the right projects
Identify the funding needs
Maintain consistent annual funding levels
Ensure financial viability
Balance our goals against supporting municipal vision plans, economic development and regulatory requirements
For the fiscal year 2024-2028, CLTWater plans to invest $2.63 Billionback into the community’s utility. The investment can be broken down into key groups:
Capacity for Growth $1.5B to expand and upsize pipes and plants to maintain service for a growing community
Rehab and Replacement $645M to replace some of the oldest infrastructure
Regulatory Requirements $279M to complete projects related to new state or federal regulations
Commitments to Public Projects $115M to relocate pipes before NCDOT, City of Charlotte, or town-funded projects
Utility Support $70M towards advancement in technology, security and updates to current facilities
Lawsuit Settlement Update
Charlotte Water previously shared with media and customers that a recent lawsuit settlement would impact the CIP program and possibly lead to a higher-than-normal rate adjustment in July. (You can learn more by reading the blog article here.)
Since January 2023, Charlotte Water restructured the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) to instead absorb the lawsuit damages. This means the settlement costs will not be passed along to customers as previously proposed.
FY 24 Industrial Sewer Rates
CLTWater recently worked with a utility consulting firm to complete a rate study and better understand our rates and cost of treatment. During the evaluation, we learned some of the industrial sewer rates had not been updated since 2011. This meant a rate recovery was needed for:
increased costs of treatment
treatment plant improvements
operational costs and program costs
Industrial Fees are different than regular customer sewer rates because industries usually have different/stronger compositions of certain chemicals. Treatment plants are designed and regulated for domestic (residential) strength wastewater.
Each industry/business is unique in its usage and discharge. For most commercial and utility users, your bill is calculated based on how much water you use and your wastewater composition. In general, the more you use, the more you pay. For monitored industries, the higher the concentration of chemical oxygen demand (COD), total suspended solids (TSS) or ammonia discharged, the more you will pay.
Non-monitored industries, e.g., breweries and restaurants, incur the high strength volume charge.
To mitigate the impact of the rate recovery, rates are proposed to increase in three phases:
July 1, 2023
January 1, 2024
Incremental increases annually expected to start July 1, 2024
To learn more about the different industrial and commercial rates, view these one-pagers below.
Charlotte Water Cares
CLTWater is always looking for ways to connect customers to resources and available financial aid programs. We work closely with several community partners, including Crisis Assistance and the Department of Social Services, to connect residents to resources. Learn more about our “Dream Team” by reading our blog article.
Financial assistance is available for families in need. Charlotte Water encourages customers to contact 3-1-1 or visit charlottewater.org to learn more about the many financial assistance programs available.
In the latest move to modernize Charlotte’s infrastructure, Charlotte Water will be updating your water meters with a newer, advanced water meter reading system. This project will take about seven years to completely roll out to all Charlotte residents accordingly to current projections.
“Charlotte Water isn’t changing how we measure water, just how we are reading your meter. We are focusing on providing a better service to our customers and making our operations more efficient,” the project manager for the new advanced water meter project, Jeffrey Jones, wants you to know.
Currently, residents get monthly updates with their water bill about their water usage. The new transmitter on the water meter will send updates to the cloud every 15 minutes. Residents will be able to see these updates online.
With these updates, residents can spot leaks and adjust usage accordingly. You won’t have to wait until you get your water bill to find out that a toilet upstairs has been running all month. Or that your child is taking hour-long showers. The new updates won’t allow residents to see where the extra water usage is coming from, just when it is. It will be up to residents to determine the source of their higher bills but the extra data will help people to identify problems earlier.
This data will also allow Charlotte Water to anticipate and identify leaks and issues on our end, giving us needed information to better serve customers. We can reallocate resources away from driving meter routes and instead focus on meeting the needs of our customers.
Track your water usage
You will see a read-out like the ones below. The first graph shows an apartment complex’s usage when there is a leak. The second graph shows the same apartment complex’s usage after the leak was fixed. As you can see in the second graph, water usage drops off in the middle of the night when most people are asleep. When water usage is still high during these periods, that indicates a leak. You will have access to graphs like this for your own home.
Currently, these advanced water meters are only used for a few commercial clients. Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, Bank of America Stadium, Frito-Lay, Lance, and SouthPark Mall all use the new advanced water meters. Pilots are planned for residential customers, also.
Advanced Meter Infrastructure allows Charlotte Water to create a better experience for Charlotte Water customers. Having greater access to consolidated data allows Charlotte Water to better prepare for droughts, usage surges, changes in water pressure and temperature, etc. It also will help us to spot leaks in the infrastructure more quickly and expedite repairs.
One project of many to update our infrastructure
This is only the latest step in modernizing our water infrastructure. Before more recent technology was released, Charlotte Water employees had to manually read each water meter. In 2003, the city started a project to replace the water meters with more modern water meters that allow a car to drive by and pick up the readings using radio signals. This saved the city lots of time and money.
However, this isn’t a perfect system. For the signal to be picked up, the car must be close to the meter. Every month, 1800 meters are missed in this process. This means that employees manually read those meters. These meters are missed due to equipment malfunction (like batteries dying) or damage.
As our population continues to grow, those missed readings cause increased burdens on the city’s resources. Also, those transmitters are starting to wear so it is time for many of them to be replaced in the next 5+ years. With this modern technology, Charlotte Water will be able to see digitized readings of usage, and the older water meter reading route will end. This will save the city time and resources that could be better utilized elsewhere.
Residential pilot in Davidson
In the coming months, Charlotte Water is piloting these water meters in the new Davidson Point neighborhood. This location was chosen because the surrounding water meter routes were full due to the growth in the area. Rather than completely redoing the water meter routes, they were a practical choice for a pilot.
This is all part of phase one of a three-phase launch of these advanced water meters throughout the city. Also, during phase one, we will be working with consultants who launch similar installations around the world to determine changing business needs and communications. This will help us prepare to answer the public’s questions and communicate well about expectations.
During phase two, Charlotte Water will be installing these meters in 10,000 buildings. They will be selecting 1-2 areas of the city that include a mix of different customers: single-family homes, apartments, and commercial. This beta release will allow Charlotte Water to start training its employees on the new equipment. After the beta release, they will take a break for a year to evaluate what worked, what didn’t, and what changes need to be made to replace the rest of the meters.
Phase three is the big launch. Charlotte Water will be replacing all water meters that are over five years old throughout the city. Meters that are less than five years old can be reprogrammed to work with the new system. This requires replacing 270,000 of 310,000 meters in the Charlotte metro area. This will take about five years to complete with 300 meters being replaced per day. All the transmitters will be replaced to work with the new system.
More information will be released with each phase. Keep an eye on the city website for more information as the project continues. This is one of several projects that the city is working on to update our infrastructure and support our continued growth. Charlotte continues to prove itself as an up-and-coming city that continues to grow as people see our incredible city.
September bills with August consumption should start arriving in mailboxes this week. You may be surprised at how much your bill is if you irrigate. Irrigation can take a 6 ccf (1 ccf=748 gallons) customer to 40 ccf in one month. Continue reading Have A High Water Bill? Read This.→