SUFFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – Have you noticed your water bill steadily going up over the last few years? You’re not alone.
Glenn Harris is a retired RN and his Norfolk home, his own nursery but for plants not people. Harris says he and his wife use a decent amount of water because of it and try to be conscious with how much they use. But some changes caught his eye.
“I noticed my water bill was going up and I was like okay, it goes up in the dry months. This was kind of jumping up a lot but usually it comes down again,” Harris said.
Harris pulled all of his bills from 2018 until now and noticed increases higher than the rate of inflation. He wrote to the Hampton Roads Sanitation District asking what gives.
“Every so often somebody looks at Virginia Power and says, ‘You guys are going to be getting some refunds on your bills this summer,'” Harris said. “I was wondering, does anybody do that for HRSD?”
HRSD general manager Jay Bernas wrote back, confirming rates have increased by 42% since 2018 and will continue to go up over the next 20 years.
Harris was left with questions, so we had Bernas break it down for us.
“What’s driving our rate increases is that we have to comply with two main regulations,” Bernas said. “One is with the Chesapeake Bay and the other is with the Clean Water Act.”
Bernas explains that HRSD meets those regulations with the SWIFT project.
“It’s creating this sustainable groundwater supply. Every time we take water out of the aquifer, the water levels decline and it’s causing us to sink,” Bernas stated.
By sanitizing wastewater into highly purified drinking water and pumping it back into the ground, HRSD is building back up the supply and literally lifting the area back up. The project isn’t cheap and is required by the federal government.
“How do you stretch a dollar? You stretch a dollar by doing projects that have multiple benefits. That’s what we’ve done here,” Bernas said.
Bernas said there’s been a lot of confusion over utility bills and what HRSD is actually responsible for.
“Sixty percent of our residents think we do trash, so we get calls every day on why we didn’t pick up people’s trash,” Bernas said. “In the city of Norfolk, you’ll get a HRUBS bill and you’ll have different lines on the bills. Stormwater, water, sewer, waste. HRSD, we’re only one line item on that bill. All the other items are city line items.”
The average HRSD customer pays $32 a month for wastewater treatment. All other expenses come from the city and are not handled by the sanitation district.
“That’s probably why we get a lot of confusion, maybe they think HRUBS is HRSD and HRSD is billing for all these line items,” Bernas said, “but the reality is we’re just offering this free billing service, so don’t kill the messenger.”
HRSD said they’re working on rebranding and redesigning their billing service to make it easier for customers to understand.