Austin Water has $27 million revenue shortage

AUSTIN -- Drive around Austin and you will see a lot of dead grass and dry sprinklers. The city is stuck in what seems to be a never-ending drought, so people are changing their habits. For instance, opting for xeriscaping and simply cutting back.

We always try to do dishes lump, in kind of one run, don't waste water. Showers, we have four people in our house, and we're all kind of conscious of it, said Austin resident Erin Coscia.

But conserving water is having an unexpected effect on Austin Water: It's losing money.

Our water revenue in 2013 was significantly lower then what we had anticipated in the budget to the tune of about $27 million, said David Anders, Austin Water Director of Finance and Business Services.

Anders and the team at Austin Water built the 2013 budget anticipating Stage 1 water restrictions across the city. But Austin hit Stage 2, so the projected budget of $550 million fell short by 11 percent. That resulted in budget cuts.

A little bit more scrutiny on purchases and when capital projects bid, if we can hold those off just a little to sort of defer some of that spending, said Anders.

Another change comes in debt services for capital projects, such as the Waller Creek Tunnel. Instead of paying cash for 30 percent of Austin Water projects, the city is taking on more debt, paying cash for just 20 percent.

The trend of using less is continuing. Austin Water built the 2014 budget anticipating Stage 2 water restrictions and using data from 2012, when the city was in Stage 2, but Austinites are still using fewer gallons than expected. Revenue from 2014 is already $9 million less than expected.

Anders said despite Austin's growth, people are using less water now than they did in 2012 and because of Austin's tiered water billing scale, that makes revenue loss more noticeable. It could all resort in a spike in water bills. Austin Water was already planning a rate increase for 2015, but that increase could now be higher to make up for loss revenue.

Erin and other Austin residents KVUEspoke with don't think paying more would be such a bad thing.

It's starting to become a commodity, in that sense, and I think if people start to realize that it's worth more, maybe they will be a little bit more cautious with how they're using it, Coscia said.


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