Champaign County water rates to increase by 60 percent

By Melissa Chua

Illinois American Water held a forum Wednesday detailing the proposed increase of Champaign County water rates later this year.

The forum included a presentation that explained the need for a 60 percent increase in water rates to members of the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce and other local businesses.

“There were three public hearings about the water rate increase held throughout the Champaign-Urbana area so far,” said Andrew Flach, public policy manager at the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce. “Yesterday’s forum gave the opportunity for member agencies to ask questions.”

The 60 percent increase is needed partially to fund the 51-million-dollar water treatment plant that Illinois American Water plans to build two miles West of Champaign.

“We explained to the audience the grilling demand for water,” said Barry Suits, network operations manager for Illinois American Water.

Another the Illinois American Water cited for the increase in water rates included the need to accomodate the continual increase in the population in Champaign county.

“We as a community need it to sustain growth. We cannot sustain growth without treating more water,” said Flach.

“The cost of not providing adaquete water service to residents and still allowing growth to occur is greater than the water rate increase,” said Suits.

The last water rate increase was in 2002, according to Flach.

“This increase will affect many businesses, specifically restaurants,” Flach said. “A 60-percent increase is a huge bill to swallow.”

Local businesses at the forum Wednesday asked why the water rate increase came suddenly and proposed to phase the rate over a number of years.

Phasing the water rate increase is impossible due to several Illinois laws dictating the process of rate increase proposals, according to Suits.

The Illinois Commerce Commission is expected to make a decision in July regarding when and how the rate increase will be implemented.