Greater Cincinnati utility finds ways to make money while customers conserve water

Water works: The 'utility of hte future'

CINCINNATI - Water conservation is a good thing – except when it comes to generating revenue for the water company.

Greater Cincinnati Water Works knows that first hand.

Over the past six years, the utility’s average customer has reduced water usage by 16 percent, said Tony Parrott, executive director of the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati.

That’s resulted in a $14.5 million decrease in revenue for Greater Cincinnati Water Works, Parrott said.

“It’s sort of a push-pull,” he said. “We want folks to conserve water. But the reality is it ultimately impacts how we recover revenue.”

So the utility has had to find new ways to cut costs and generate revenue to make up for that lost money. And one of those strategies has been to handle billing and customer service for other utilities, a strategy Parrott discussed at a news conference Tuesday morning.

Already, the utility is providing billing and customer call center services for Alexandria Renew Enterprises, the wastewater utility in Alexandria Va., and to the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government in Lexington, Ky.

“As we transform ourselves and our operations, we’re doing it with one another,” Parrott said. “We call it the utility of the future.”

The arrangement has saved money for Alexandria Renew Enterprises and is generating a new revenue stream for Cincinnati.

Alexandria Renew CEO Karen Pallansch noted during the news conference that, although the arrangement wasn’t announced here publicly until Tuesday, her utility started sending out bills with Greater Cincinnati Water Works' help on Oct. 1, 2012.

'Seed For Revitalization'

And next week, she’ll ask her board to eliminate its rate payers “account services fee” as a result, a move that would save residential customers $6.78 each quarter.

“The magic is that together we’ve made both of our communities stronger,” she said.

Parrott noted that the Metropolitan Sewer District also is working to encourage economic development in hopes of attracting new businesses – and new customers – to boost revenues.

“We are trying to be a seed for revitalization and economic development that will bring back business and high-volume users so we can reverse that trend,” he said.

That way Cincinnatians can work to save water, and the local water utility will still be able to pay its bills.

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