Water and the Land of the Color Red: The 2012 Colorado Water and Wastewater Rates Dashboard

By David Tucker, June 20, 2013

David Tucker is a Project Director for the Environmental Finance Center at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Colorado, sometimes referred to as the Land of the Color Red, is a place used to paying attention to the availability and cost of water, a sometime source of contention. Hence the 2012 survey of water and wastewater rates around the state by the Colorado Municipal League and the Special District Association of Colorado, underwritten by the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority, is a most valuable source of data about water rates and finances in Colorado.

Drawing on the rates data from this survey, and affordability and economic data from the U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and with funding assistance from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Environmental Finance Center at UNC-Chapel Hill has created the 2012 Colorado Water and Wastewater Rates Dashboard, representing 112 municipal and special district drinking water and/or wastewater utilities in Colorado.

Colorado dashboard launched - photo

Image courtesy of Nature Conservancy Magazine.

This dashboard is the third of five water and wastewater rates dashboards that the EFC at UNC will build for the Smart Management for Small Water Systems project. Similar dashboards are already complete for North Carolina and Texas. Additional dashboards are planned for New Jersey and Arizona, also as part of the Small Systems project.

Thus, to assist municipal and special district water and wastewater utility owners and operators in Colorado, as well as policymakers, journalists, researchers, and citizens, in obtaining the information they need from a number of different contexts to help set rates that promote financial stability, customer affordability, and conservation of scarce water resources, we have developed the Colorado dashboard, a powerful benchmarking and analytical tool. The dials on the Rates Comparison tab of the dashboard allow the user to select a service (residential water, wastewater, or both), as well as monthly usage (from zero to 15,000 gallons per month, at 1,000 gallon intervals), and then to examine:

– Bill Comparison: How does the chosen bill compare to others in the selected comparison group?
– Conservation Signal: How strong or weak a price signal is being sent to residential customers at higher ranges of use (the price increase from 10,000 to 11,000 gallons per month)?
– Affordability: For a chosen residential bill, what percentage of median household income (MHI) does it represent? (See more on the MHI indicator in this recent blog post.)

CO Dashboard Screenshot - medium

The Colorado dashboard also empowers the user to control which of seven comparison groups (all utilities, similar population served, similar source of water, similar rate structure, similar household income, same utility type, and utilities located on same side of the Continental Divide) is selected before examining the various data displays mentioned above, since peer groups can help provide more appropriate analysis than 1-to-1 utility comparisons.

The data behind the dashboard also allows us to conduct customized analyses upon request of individual utilities and their rates and finances. So if you are a Colorado small system (10,000 or fewer people served), and would like some assistance with looking more closely at your balance of rates, financial sustainability, affordability, and conservation concerns, please feel free to contact us here (http://efcnetwork.org/one-on-one/). We will be glad to help!