Birmingham Water Works rate structure creates customer confusion

Published: Sep. 27, 2022 at 4:12 PM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - Like thousands of Birmingham Water Works customers, the Hendersons didn’t get a bill for months - then got five bills all at once in June.

They say they paid that bill, then got another one a few days later demanding hundreds more dollars and when they called to try and resolve it, they say they never got a call back.

That’s when their billing story really takes a turn - when the time came to fill their pool with 31,000 gallons of water. Based on their average monthly bill, plus the extra water for the pool, the Hendersons should’ve used about 35,000 gallons that month, which would be a bill of around $290 based on BWWB rates. Instead, they got a bill in July for $1,078.

“We were expecting a high bill, we were not expecting them to tell us that we had used 45,000 gallons in one month,” explains Elizabeth Henderson. “We don’t ever use 11,000 gallons in a month ever. So we called about that. ‘Somebody will call you back.’ Never got a call back. The next bill they were trying to state in July that we used 72,000 gallons. There’s no way.”

If you take a closer look at the Hendersons’ bill, you’ll figure out that every gallon of water you use doesn’t cost you the same.

This chart shows the increasing cost of water from the BWWB.
This chart shows the increasing cost of water from the BWWB.(WBRC-TV)

“I’ve never looked at it until you pointed it out to me, but it doesn’t make any sense.” Henderson said.

Under BWWB’s rate structure, you’re billed based on the number of cubic feet of water you use. If you use a 5/8ths line as most homes have, the first three cubic feet will cost you $2.66 per cubic foot, the next 12 will cost you $3.96 per cubic foot, and anything after that will run you $6.93 per cubic foot - all for the exact same water.

“If I’m using the water and I’m paying for it, it shouldn’t matter how much water I use,” Henderson says. “It shouldn’t be charged differently because I use more, that really is not fair.”

You really begin to see this impact you with the rate increases that the utility has passed in the last few years.

In 2019 and 2021, the BWWB said the rate hikes would result in an average increase in your bill of about 3.9%.

But, look at this chart we put together that shows you’re paying a much heftier price if you have a bigger home with more people or a big lawn to water.

Customers who use more than seven cubic feet a month are now paying between 10-25% more for the same water they were paying for in 2019.

BWWB's rate structure means you pay more per cubic foot of water, the more you use.
BWWB's rate structure means you pay more per cubic foot of water, the more you use.(WBRC-TV)

The column on the far right shows what you’re paying on average per cubic foot of water, and you can see customers who use the least only pay less than $3 a cubic foot, while customers who use more can pay close to $5 per cubic foot for the exact same water.

We asked the Birmingham water works to explain the reasoning behind why they charge some customers more for the exact same water and still haven’t heard back from them.

See more 6 On Your Side Investigates stories on Birmingham Water Works here.


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