When the five small water systems in Hampton County, South Carolina decided to band together to create the Lowcountry Regional Water System (LRWS), they, like many other small water systems across the country, faced a number of managerial and financial obstacles. Among these challenges were a flat growth rate, degraded and inadequate infrastructure, artificially low rates, and an economically disadvantaged population. Each of the five communities in this rural county had not only a different rate level, but also a different rate structure, with monthly rates for 5,000 gallons of water and sewer service ranging from as low as $36.50 to as high as $62.67. Whether the rates of the new, regionalized water system were “affordable” for all customers became a top concern for the LRWS.
In previous posts, we have talked about publicly available data on inflationary measures including the Consumer Price Index and the Construction Cost Index as well as on commercial energy use from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) and the US Census. The US Census also has a rich set of data on the financial position of households within our community. These data are especially relevant and helpful for determining the affordability of government utility services such as water and wastewater rates.