Thursday, February 2, 2023

Water upgrades mean a few dollars more on bills in Brunswick County, wholesale costs could also rise

In two years, water customers in Brunswick County should expect to pay a few dollars more on their water bill to finance a planned plant $47 million expansion, $90 to $100 million treatment upgrade, and $42 million regional water supply project.

Getting contaminant-free water will mean paying a few extra dollars on the water bill in Brunswick County. (Port City Daily/File photo)
Getting contaminant-free water will mean paying a few extra dollars on the water bill in Brunswick County. (Port City Daily/File photo)

BRUNSWICK COUNTY — Average water customers in Brunswick County could pay about 14 percent more on their water bill in fiscal year 2022, according to the county’s water rate recommendation presented Monday.

For an average residential water user, whose bill is paid straight to the county, the cost could increase by about $3.22 in two years. Wholesale customers would bear a larger cost burden, which could mean a larger increase for their residential customers compared to customers paying directly to the county.

Related: Brunswick County says reverse-osmosis-treated water still on track for December 2021

If the county’s 10 wholesale customers — like Leland, Southport, or H2GO — choose to pass on their increase, their average customers will see an approximately $4.60 increase on their 2022 bills, according to the county’s recommendation.

The rate increase is needed to cover increased expenses for Brunswick County’s planned $137 million Northwest Water Treatment plant expansion and upgrade to outfit the system with low-pressure reverse osmosis technology.

The county is also obliged to chip in $42 million to cover its portion of Lower Cape Fear Water Sewer Authority’s planned construction of a 54-inch parallel water supply main.

Commissioners will consider adopting the recommended rate changes at the county’s budget hearing on July 17, according to Ann Hardy, Brunswick County manager.

Water rate study

Brunswick County commissioned a water rates study from the firm Raftelis Financial Consultants in December 2018, which was presented to the board Monday during a workshop. The study was needed to show the Local Government Commission the county’s ability to take on debt, which could approach $216 million between four water and sewer projects.

Raftelis’ study showed that by the time the plant is complete in fiscal year 2022, the county’s debt service based on the planned $179 million water projects will increase by $7 million. Operating and maintaining the new systems — expected to reach “final completion” in September 2022 — will cost an added $2.9 million annually.

To cover the anticipated costs, Raftelis projected the county needs to increase overall revenues by about 31% between fiscal year 2020 and fiscal year 2024. To do this, the county must increase water rates.

Manager-recommended changes

Water rates are likely to increase for all county customers. But, for an average residential county customer, the change won’t hurt too badly.

About 84% of the county’s residential customers use 5,000 gallons of water a day or less. Residentially-sized meters’ base fee will increase by $3 in 2022; for the smallest meter, customers will pay a base of $15; for the largest, customers will pay $27.

Accounting for the average 4,500 gallons-per-day customer, using the smallest-sized three-quarter inch meter, an average county water bill would increase from $25.73 — the current average bill — to $28.95 in two years. The transition would take place in a tiered structure, with the first changes taking place next fiscal year. Before the increase, bills would actually decrease next year, by about $0.90 for an average residential customer.

Wholesale, industrial rates higher

Compared to residential customers, commercial, wholesale, and irrigation customers will bear a greater cost burden.

In fact, the county’s highest water demand comes from irrigation and wholesale customers, according to Raftelis’ study. Wholesale rates would increase from $2.95 per 1,000 gallons to $3.95 — about a 35% increase in 2022. Industrial customers would similarly see a 12% increase.

Brunswick County’s wholesale customers include:

  • Bald Head Island
  • Holden Beach
  • Leland
  • Navassa
  • Oak Island
  • Ocean Isle Beach
  • Shallotte
  • Southport
  • H2GO Brunswick Regional Water and Sewer
  • Northwest

View Brunswick County’s water rates recommendations reviewed by the Board of Commissioners Monday below: 

Water Rate Recommendations by Johanna Ferebee on Scribd

Update May 7: This article has been updated to correct the year the rate change could take place — in 2022. Only slight modifications would take effect in 2020 for the county’s retail irrigation customer tiers. 

Send tips and comments to Johanna Ferebee at

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