Water customers in Preston Shores area near Lake Texoma may start seeing an increase in their monthly bill as the Red River Authority of Texas rolls out new water rates throughout its system. Officials with the authority said these increases will help it pay off $16 million in system improvements, ranging from infrastructure updates to treatment modifications, throughout its 15-county, 4,000-customer service area.
Starting on Nov. 30, the Red River Authority increased its base rate for all of its customers to a standard $73.50, bringing all of its customers into the same pay structure. Previously, Preston Shores customers paid a base rate of $53 per month, which was last raised in 2013.
Notice of the change was released on Nov. 1 with notice of the proposed rate released in late August. Currently there are 684 customers in the Preston Shores water system.
“In the past, we have maintained separate rates based on each system,” Red River Authority General Manager Curtis Campbell said.
In Preston Shores, these increases will be used to modify the system’s treatment for trihalomethanes, a byproduct of the chlorination process that were recently detected in elevated amounts during a test by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Campbell said effected customers have been notified of the violation.
“My board hated what we are having to do, but when the EPA is throwing down on you, you don’t have a choice,” Campbell said of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which currently limits the trihalomethanes to 0.080 milligrams per liter.
A sample recently tested contained 0.167 milligrams per liter, with other samples ranging greatly by season, Campbell said.
The EPA based this requirement on people drinking two liters of the water daily for 70 years, TCEQ Media Relations Specialist Brian McGovern said in an email. The EPA also considers the amount of the chemical that would cause an increased risk on one case in 1 million people who are exposed over their lifetime. Those who consumed the chemical in higher concentrations were at an increased risk of liver, kidney and central nervous system problems and an increased risk of cancer, he said.
Campbell said the chemical has been monitored by bigger water providers since around 2005, with the authority starting its own monitoring in 2011. Since then, the authority has been trying multiple ways to remove the chemicals, but these efforts have been ineffective.
Campbell attributed this to the type of disinfection system in use at the system, which does not have a long enough disinfection time to treat the trihalomethanes. If the system was equipped to use a longer disinfection time, Campbell said rates would have doubled when it was built in 1997.
Under the proposed upgrades, the site will be equipped with a modern ultraviolet disinfection system.
The upgrades in Preston Shores represent only one part of the $16 million of improvements that the authority is looking to implement. In some systems west of Wichita Falls, improvements will be put in place to address excess nitrates in the water system, Campbell said. Other upgrades will replace aging parts of various smaller systems, noting many of these water systems date back to the 1970s.
Because of the small size of these systems, and the cost of the upgrades needed to bring them into compliance, Campbell said it was best to spread the cost evenly throughout the authority’s service area. Otherwise, it would be difficult for the authority to finance these improvements based on each individual system.
Despite the word of improvements to the water system on the horizon, some customers are finding the rate increase hard to swallow. Evelyn Johnson has lived near Lake Texoma for about 18 years, and uses a private water purifier to filter the water she gets from the authority.
When she moved to the area, she said her base rate was only $35, but increases over the years have doubled it since then. During the winter, she and her husband must keep the purifier heated to ensure that it operates properly, leading to further expense, she said.
“If we could at least drink the water, it might not be such a problem, but we are also paying for maintenance of a water purifier and bottled water,” she said. “I won’t even let my dogs drink it.”
When asked how she felt about the improvements that are slated for the system, Johnson said she was skeptical and believes they are just an excuse to charge more for the water she is unable to use.
“They have said in the past that they have to raise it for an important this and an important that,” she said. “I will have to see it before I will drink it.”