Bristol, TN

Water Rates on the Rise in South Fork District

John M. Dabbs

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Water Treatment PlantIvan Bandura/Unsplash

Residents of the former Weaver Pike Utility District, now part of the South Fork Utility District, are seeing dramatic increases in their water bills since last month. Residents were notified by letter by the district that a rate increase was coming as of January 1, 2022. The rate sheet is also published, but it didn't say how much rates were going up - on the rates were given.

Taking notice

We are bombareded with such notices every week. I routinely receive notices from the "Farm Bureau" about my premium changing, and that they are required to notify me when it changes more than $1. I usually don't actually notice the change until I receive my statement at the next billing cycle. It isn't until then that it hits home and we can actually see what the damage is. The same happened here.

I wasn't alone in noticing my bill had nearly doubled. Most all of my neighbors protested amongst themselves and complained about the water bill increase. This didn't happen when they recieved the rate increase notice. They were like me and didn't realize the impact until they too received their bill. It may be our fault that we respond to these changes in this manner because we do not look at how the notices will effect our bills based on our average water use and expect it.

Looking deeper into the well

The South Fork Utility District receives a major part of its water from the Bristol-Bluff City Utility District. The remainder comes from Bristol, Tennessee. The base rate for the South Fork district is a couple of dollars higher than the Bristol-Bluff City district rate. South Fork's cost per thousand gallons is $2.69 more as well.

The water bills for my neighborhood, on average, increased 55% since last month, and just over 54% compared to the same period last year. I began searching for answers online, and through the local utility districts. I contacted William Witcher, the Utility Services Manager for Bristol, Tennessee, and the Bristol-Bluff City Utility District. I was unable to make contact with the South Fork' office after hours, and had contacted everyone by e-mail.

Economy and Change

I learned from Mr. Witcher that South Fork purchases minimally from Bristol, Tennessee and he was unable to provide further details. The Bristol-Bluff City Utility District forwarded my query to Tim Ham, a consultant for the district. Ham also states he does some work for the Tennessee Association of Utility Districts.

Ham states a major chemical supplier in Southeast notified customers on Janurary 3 2022 prices across the board ae going up 60-70%, beginning immediately. Ham states chlorine bleach has gone up over 50% already.

Prices have also increased for pipe, meters, brass, copper, and most supply items used to maintain water districts. Utility Districts are forced to raise rates to maintain financial integrity, and it's a national trend. This is compounded with the aging infrastructure at South Fork. When they current board took over for Tipton Construction, the water loss was 60% for the utility. Ham says the rate is currently in the 12-20% range.

The current economy with record inflation had made the situation worse with the increases in parts and labor. The supplies for keeping the water safe for consumption add to the rate increase for everyone.

In the outskirts of Bristol, I can say that our water quality has gotten better and I have not seen mud in the lines in many months. My whole-house water filter is no longer caked with mud and lasts for the recommended period now. I hadn't considered these facts when I reached out to inquire about the rate changes.

We aren't happy about paying more for our water, but I am happy with the quality of water we are getting these days. Now, I just need the U.S. Postal Service to deliver my check on time so I don't have to pay the late fees every few months.

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An outdoor enthusiast with a passion for travel and adventure. John is a professional consultant and photojournalist.

Bristol, TN
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