Board raises water prices amid dispute over metering contract

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At a contentious meeting today, the Capital Area Groundwater Conservation District board voted to more than triple what it charges for water from $20 to $65 per million gallons.

The average user might not notice the difference, since the actual cost of the water itself is a small fraction of your bill compared to the price of getting it to you. But the effort to install meters for commercial and industrial customers, a big reason for the cost increase, was hotly debated. 

“It’s not a lot of money,” says Patrick Kerr, president and CEO of Baton Rouge Water Company. “But why spend it if you don’t need to?”

The water company is suing to stop the district from installing the meters. Like other commercial and industrial users, the company self-reports how much water it uses, a practice the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Office has frowned upon. 

The company argues that the metering contract is improper under state law, the meters won’t work, and the district could audit customers’ usage for a fraction of the cost. 

District Executive Director Gary Beard says the contract, which the district board already has approved, was based on a template the Attorney General’s Office approved. He says the cost of the contract, which the district board discussed over the past year, is capped at $10.4 million. 

Supporters say the metering effort is necessary for obtaining timely, accurate data needed to preserve the aquifer, which is threatened by saltwater intrusion. 

“We don’t have accurate data,” says Camille Manning-Broome, president and CEO of the Center for Planning Excellence and a district board member. “There’s not transparency in the data of the wells.”

The vote for the rate hike was 8-4.