Covington Water District Reforms Have Begun

Covington Water District logoDriven by an ethic that appeared to be focused on “What’s easiest for the District” instead of “How can we best serve our customers,” the Covington Water District developed a well-earned reputation as an expensive purveyor of water that was hard to work with, and excessively demanding.  But in the wake of two new Commissioners coming on-board, and the hiring of a Thomas Keown as the District’s new General Manager, reforms have begun.

REALTORS® and Masterbuilders having been advocating since early last year for reforms at the District, including deferring payment of connection fees to “meter drop” (as opposed to collecting the connection fees at the time a completed application is submitted), especially since the District does not incur any significant marginal costs, and is not required to increase system capacity, during the deferral period.

In response, a revised Rate Table will become effective April 9, 2015. It provides that District connection fees identified in sections in sections I, II, III, IV and V of the District’s Rate Table will be collected at the time of the meter drop. Fees associated with Section VI (System Extension Agreements) will continue to be collected up-front to offset administrative costs.

Other reforms sought by the REALTORS® and Masterbuilders include the amount of connection fees, time of payment of fees, multiple water meters, and permit-exempt wells. In response, the District’s Board of Commissioners unanimously passed a resolution rescinding the District’s “dual water meter” requirements. Requiring multiple meters was intended to make it as easy as possible for the District to shut off some water supplies to conserve water in the event of a drought. But it’s an expensive luxury that raises the cost of new housing, and one which few other water districts require.

The Board of Commissioners has also voted to discuss the District’s “exempt well” policy.  Wells for residential use that provide less than 5,000 gallons of water per day do not require a permit from the Department of Ecology. The Covington Water District requires any exempt wells be decommissioned as a precondition for receiving or maintaining water service from the Covington Water District.

The rationalization offered by former District officials was that decommissioning wells was required for protection of the District’s aquifer. The rationalization did not pass the “straight-face” test because the District does not impose the requirement on customers – such as golf courses – who have their own wells but also purchase large amounts of water from the District.

The District has just 17,000 customers, and is expected to soon have debts totaling $100 million, which equates to nearly $59,000 in debt for each customer. Those funds will have to be collected via water rate charges. The District’s prior decisions have created a cash flow challenge, so the District is seeking to increase the number of customers, and the amount of water the District is selling, as quickly as possible. That fact, not aquifer protection, appears to have been the motivation for forcing people to give up wells that customers have been using in rural areas to water livestock, and other similar outdoor uses. The rub, is that in the event of a drought, the District could turn off the water used for those purposes, which is a source of concern for customers with horses and other rural livestock who do not want to see their animals die of thirst.