Hartselle has just had one of the driest seasons ever, and many residents are planning to spend more time watering lawns and gardens this summer to compensate for Mother Nature. Water used outside doesn’t enter into our wastewater system, and so Hartselle Utilities has a long-standing policy to cap summer sewer fees.
Water and Wastewater are two separate services provided by Hartselle Utilities. HU purchases water from Decatur Utilities and distributes it to customers. Wastewater – what is returned through the sewer pipes – is treated at HU’s Wastewater Treatment Plant and cleaned before it is returned to Shoal Creek.
Sewer charges are higher than water charges, because the costs to treat wastewater to meet federal and state standards, and ensure that it is clean enough to be returned safely to our environment, are higher than the cost to purchase water.
Hartselle Utilities meters the amount of water each customer uses each month. Typically, most of the water a household uses enters the sewer system as waste, so each customer’s water bill is used to calculate their sewer fees. This is the national standard for calculating residential wastewater treatment charges.
During the summer months, residents generally use more water outdoors – to irrigate lawns, top off swimming pools and wash cars, for example – and this water does not enter the sewer system. For this reason, HU sets a cap for the summer sewer rates at 120 percent of the average of each customer’s winter usage. From May 1 to October 31, customers are not charged a sewer fee for water used above the cap.
HU uses the months between November and April to calculate winter averages, and then caps each customer’s summer sewer rates at 120 percent of that figure. If a customer does not have a long enough billing history to provide a winter average, the system average is used to calculate their summer sewer cap.
HU customers who use a great deal of water outdoors year-round might consider an outdoor water irrigation meter, says Customer Service Manager Terri Harris. The cost to install a one-inch irrigation meter is $528. There is no sewer charge for water received through an irrigation meter.
However, Harris cautions, for the typical household with a backyard garden, the cost of an irrigation meter does not lower the customer’s sewer bill enough to pay for itself. She strongly suggests that customers considering an irrigation meter calculate their total costs, and the expected savings, before installing one.