Conservation could cause water rate hike

Five months ago the state of Georgia asked Columbus Water Works and other major users up and down North Georgia rivers to cut water usage by 10 percent because of an extreme drought.

Local Water Works customers responded in a big way, curtailing usage by almost 25 percent compared to a year ago.

The reward for the stewardship?

A potential rate increase because the Water Works in forecasting a revenue shortfall over the next 10 months of $3 million due in large part to reduced demand because of the state-mandated restrictions.

Water Works President Billy Turner in a letter last month to Georgia Environmental Protection Division Director Carol Couch outlined the problem. Turner is asking the state to remove Columbus from the restricted area.

"Without relief, our customers are facing a substantial rate increase," Turner wrote. "Certainly, that would be a poor reward for our citizens meeting and exceeding the state imposed water usage reduction."

Monday during the scheduled meeting of the Board of Water Commissioners, Turner said the utility was "still in the black," but the revenue shortfall could become more severe beginning next month.

"Normally in April the water use goes up and the revenue goes up," Turner said. "We don't expect that to happen this year."

EPD spokesman Kevin Chambers said the Columbus request is still under evaluation.

"We haven't said no yet," Chambers said.