Dividing the costs of shared water infrastructure equitably among many potential users may not be as straightforward as it seems. In particular, infrastructure designed to meet future demands in a growing region will not operate at full capacity for significant periods of time while demands catch up with projections. In a previous installment, we wrote about how reservations can be made on this excess capacity by individual entities when ownership is shared. These reservations can be used to split the costs of development, operation, and maintenance based on projections of future growth. Agreements can also include provisions for redistributing capacity reservations when actual growth differs significantly from initial projections. In some cases, these provisions call for retroactive payments between the partners to make the distribution of cost sharing in previous years reflect the new capacity reservations.
However, shared infrastructure capacity is not always directly owned by the end-users. In many circumstances, it is instead owned by a regional entity such as water management authority (WMA). These entities may issue debt, operate facilities, and provide maintenance for regional water and wastewater systems components (reservoirs, treatment facilities, major transmission lines). They can act as wholesalers, recovering their costs through fees charged to member utilities that in turn directly sell water services to retail (individual) customers. Under this arrangement, individual members do not need to take ownership over excess capacity, instead paying only for the water services they use in a given year. However, these systems may still operate with excess capacity, and the cost of that capacity is passed along implicitly in the fees charged to utilities. Under this structure, the costs of excess capacity are not always borne by the members that end up using it. This post profiles two different approaches used by regional authorities, the Karengnodi Water Authority and the Tampa Bay Water Authority, to examine the different ways in which water authorities pass their costs to member utilities.