Water Rate Management: Free Resources from the Alliance for Water Efficiency

The Alliance for Water Efficiency (AWE) is a stakeholder-based, non-profit organization dedicated to the efficient and sustainable use of water in North America.

For the past nine years, I’ve had the great privilege of serving on the Board of Directors for the AWE. I know that probably makes me biased, but through its Financing Sustainable Water website, the AWE has in recent years produced what I consider to be some of the best publicly available materials on water rate management. They have some fantastic resources, including tips on how to set rates, advice on communicating with residents, and some pretty handy modeling tools. All of it free and well worth a look.

I’ve been an advocate of the Financing Sustainable Water website from the outset. In August 2012, the AWE gathered 30 industry experts at the Declining Water Sales and Utility Revenues Summit to discuss declining utility revenues. The result was the creation of a framework for defining the problem and developing solutions. The Financing Sustainable Water website was built to make those resources publicly available to water professionals.

Here’s just a small sample to get you started.

1. Building Rates

The Building Rates section is an invaluable resource for any water utility investigating potential rate design improvements. Covering fiscal sustainability, efficiency-oriented rate structures, and alternative rate structures, AWE provides a great overview to help water managers on the path toward rates that will contribute to both sustainability and efficiency. For a deep-dive, be sure to check out the downloadable handbook, Building Better Water Rates for an Uncertain World.

2. Public Participation and Support  

Integral to any kind of water rate revision is buy-in from stakeholders, including elected officials, residents, and community groups. AWE’s Public Participation and Support page is a great resource to help water managers obtain (and maintain) stakeholder engagement throughout the process, from first considering rate redesign, to communicating costs and benefits, right through to implementation and billing.

And accomplishing all of that requires effective communication, which brings us to…


3. Communications Tools

The single most common question customers ask in the face of a rate change is, “Why are rates increasing while I’m being asked to use less?” Clearly communicating both the finite nature of water resources and the need for conservation, as well as the costs of water services and the associated infrastructure is paramount to answering that question. AWE’s Communication Tools help water managers do exactly that.  

The downloadable AWE Water Rates Messaging Plan provides specific talking points to address four key areas: The value of the service; the reasons rate revision is necessary; how conservation impacts rates (and how rates impact conservation); and the impact of factors such as drought or water quality. To help water managers use the suggested messaging effectively, a downloadable AWE Message Protocol and Q&A is also available.

And make sure you take a couple of minutes to check out the great video at the bottom of the page, called “Good Question: Why Are My Water Rates Going Up?” The video provides a good overview of the reasons behind water rate increases, the value residents receive in return, and the importance of conservation both in terms of environmental protection and keeping costs down. It’s freely available and utilities can provide the link to their customers to help answer questions.

These are just a few examples of the great tools and resources the AWE makes freely available through its Financing Sustainable Water website. I’m confident you’ll find them extremely useful.

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