I was asked to write a simple explanation of what’s going on with DELCORA for Chester rate payers (but other’s may benefit, too).
I always find it helpful to begin with a review of the 3 water companies. Starting with the oldest:
- Chester Water Authority (CWA): They bring drinking water to your home from a pipe running down the middle of your street. They call it drinking water because you can drink it. It’s also the water that comes out your faucets, shower head, garden hose, and fills the washing machine, dish washer, and toilet.
- DELCORA (Delaware County Regional Water Authority): They take the water out your house that CWA brings to your house. It’s sent to a different pipe in the middle of the street. The water travels that pipe to Front and Booth Streets where it is cleaned up (treated) before heading to the Delaware River.
- Chester Stormwater Authority (CSA): They handle rainwater. Some rainwater flows off of streets and sidewalks (impervious surfaces) and heads to storm drains on the way to the river. The rest gets to the river absorbed in grass, dirt, or stone surfaces.
DELCORA and CWA water don’t mix for obvious reasons. You wouldn’t want your drinking water mixed with your sewage. But, DELCORA and Chester Stormwater Authority water does mix in some parts of the city.
In old cities like Chester built before a wastewater treatment plant was located here, some sewage pipes joined with rainwater/stormwater pipes (combined sewers) having the two waters combine and dump into the Delaware River. Imagine raw sewage dumped in the river everyday washed down with rainwater. Yuk!
When DELCORA was built in the 1970s, the combined sewers and the dedicated sewage pipes came to them for treatment. What’s left are the dedicated stormwater pipes that head straight to the river because that’s where you want all your rainwater to go.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has mandated there can’t be any more combined sewers. Sewage pipes have to be separated from stormwater pipes.
The good news is DELCORA won’t have to deal with rainwater coming to their treatment plant because rainwater doesn’t need to be treated. DELCORA operates a wastewater treatment plant, not a rainwater treatment plant. All that excess rainwater running through the plant cost the company money to treat when it should bypass the plant and be dumped straight to the river. Even now, during huge rain storms, the plant can’t handle all the rainwater from the combined sewers (stormwater plus sewage) and dumps it in the river like in the old days. Who want’s that? If the plant was just receiving sewage and the all the rainwater was going straight to the river, the EPA wouldn’t be bothering DELCORA to separate underground pipe.
The bad news is DELCORA is required to pay for all this underground piping work the EPA is demanding. Of course, the only money DELCORA receives is from rate payers and their’s a rider on your DELCORA bill to cover a portion of these pipe separation costs.
You’d think with a new stormwater authority in place, the Stormwater Authority would have to pick up some of that underground piping costs to give DELCORA a break since these EPA regulations include separating stormwater piping, but they don’t. The $8.25/month the Chester Stormwater Authority collects from Chester residents is for planting shrubs, cleaning storm drains, and collecting rain in barrels.
WHY DELCORA AGREED TO BE PURCHASED BY AQUA PENNSYLVANIA
As it relates to DELCORA rate payers, they found that by partnering with a much larger company in the water business, they won’t have to pay so much to get all this new piping work done or pay so much for all the other changes that have to made to their facility to meet upcoming EPA regulations. And, instead of spreading the inevitable rate hike to only the small number of existing DELCORA customers, spreading the costs over a lot more customers (Aqua’s entire customer base) keeps the rate increases down.
DELCORA’S 3 OPTIONS
Finally, we get to the ‘Simple as 1-2-3’ part.
Here are the three DELCORA scenarios that are before us:
I. DO NOTHING. If DELCORA continues to do business as is, expect a 10% rate increase every year for the foreseeable future.
II. FIND A BUYER (AQUA). DELCORA continues to do business as is and they’ve worked out a deal with Aqua where the rate increases are only 3% a year for the foreseeable future thanks to a Rate Stabilization Plan. Note: The Rate Stabilization Plan is in jeopardy as Delaware County Council has found reason to file legal papers to reverse approval of the trust fund set up to reduce rates.
III. Or, DELCORA is dissolved and is run by Delaware County government.
Being dissolved is the big unknown. Maybe the County will have DELCORA continue to do business as is. Maybe they’ll sell DELCORA. Nothing has been made public what the County’s plans are for DELCORA other than having it dissolve by June 18, 2020.
Those are the 3 scenarios as of today. You can read the newspapers for more details on the projected costs of the EPA regulations; the wastewater deal between DELCORA, Aqua, and the City of Philadelphia; the legal filings to kill the rate stabilization trust fund and to dissolve DELCORA; and all the political drama and finger pointing.
This stuff is confusing, especially with a totally different degree of drama occurring between the City of Chester and the Chester Water Authority guest starring the State of Pennsylvania, Aqua and American Water.
DELCORA’s deal making has nothing to do with Chester City government. This is a Delaware County government issue.
Both Chester Water Authority and DELCORA rates are some of the lowest rates in the county. Even with these very low rates, there are many people who still can’t pay their bills.
Rates for both companies will likely be rising. The costs of water in Chester for the average household could approach $100/month in the next 5 years when you combine the bills from DELCORA, the Chester Water Authority, and the Chester Stormwater Authority.
That’s a simple as I can put it.