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Editorial: Increase in Water Rates Needed for Maintenance

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Prevention is cheaper in the long run.

That’s true whether it’s getting your teeth cleaned twice a year, your vehicle serviced every 3,000 miles or maintaining the pipes that bring drinking water to your house. A broken water or sewer line is a real emergency residents expect to be fixed ASAP.

Albuquerque’s water and sewer utility has reached the point where aging infrastructure — pipelines, treatment plants, pumping stations, etc. — is breaking down. More than 400 miles of metro area water and sewer pipe are at high risk of failure.

But lack of money has increased the backlog of pipes that should be replaced. It is estimated it will cost hundreds of millions of dollars over the next decade to replace the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority’s infrastructure. The utility also is in the midst of a $250 million reconstruction of Albuquerque’s primary sewage treatment plant.

Wednesday night, the utility’s board approved moderate rate increases — 5 percent in 2015 and another 5 percent in 2017 — to upgrade the system. By 2017, the average residential customer’s monthly bill would increase $9, from $45 to $54.

The board already has approved two rate increases. One took effect last July. The second will take effect next year and will average 5 percent.

Utility officials say upgrading the system should lower operating costs because so much work now is devoted to repairing broken lines. The new rate increases also will provide money to increase the utility’s reserve fund for emergencies.

The increases are intended to cover maintaining or replacing infrastructure, and not operating expenses.

With the rate increases and an ongoing replacement/maintenance plan in place, the utility estimates the backlog of infrastructure in need of repair or replacement could be cleared by 2027.

While no one likes higher utility bills, putting off the problem will just cost more in the long run. Albuquerque’s water cost is moderate compared with other neighboring cities — high water users in Santa Fe pay more than double what their Duke City counterparts pay — and the upgrades need to be done.

The utility board did the right thing by biting the bullet now.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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