Sewer rate and capacity charge
Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
How much is the current monthly sewer rate and capacity charge?
How does Brightwater impact sewer rates?
King County funds its major infrastructure investments by borrowing bonds.
About 54 percent of our sewer rate goes toward debt service on bonds borrowed over the past two decades to pay for many large and complex projects, including the West Point secondary upgrade, the Denny Way and Martin Luther King Combined Sewer Overflow projects and dozens of others. These facilities are now operating and serving the ratepayers, who benefit from the infrastructure that protects public health, the environment, and our quality of life.
In 2008, we began significant borrowing to cover the cost of Brightwater construction and several other projects to add new capacity to our system – it’s the biggest expansion of our regional system in nearly 50 years.
While it is true that a significant portion of the $3.69 rate increase in 2013 is to cover debt service on the money borrowed for Brightwater and other projects undertaken in the past decade, in the long run the cost of the project will actually be covered through the revenues from the rates and a capacity charge paid by newly connecting customers.
As the share of total revenue we collect from our capacity charge customers grows in coming years, Brightwater’s impact to the sewer rate increases will subside.
By 2030, the revenue from the capacity charge and rate payments of newly connecting customers will cover approximately 95 percent of the incurred borrowing costs for Brightwater.
Who oversees and approves wastewater rate increases? How often do increases occur?
Setting the rate and capacity charge: the Wastewater Treatment Division sends its rate proposal to the King County Executive
each spring. After review, the rate proposal goes to the King County Council
for further deliberation. The council is required to adopt the sewer rate by June 30 for the following year. King County's overarching goal is to keep rates level for several consecutive years whenever possible.
Why is my bill different from the current sewer rate? Are sewer rates based on water usage?
Local sewer agencies
collect wastewater from residences and businesses and transport it to King County's regional system of pipelines, tunnels and treatment plants
. The amount the local utility pays King County for this service is based on the current wholesale monthly sewer rate and the number of customers the local utility serves.
The monthly sewer rate you pay to your local utility includes the county's monthly wholesale rate, plus the rate set by your local sewer utility to cover its costs in building, operating and maintaining its local collection system. This also explains why your monthly bill comes from your local sewer utility instead of King County - because people do not connect directly to our regional sewer system.
The local agencies decide how to bill customers in their area. Some use a set price that directly includes King County's rate. Others base their rates on amount of water a customer uses. And others use a combination of the two.
I live in Snohomish (or Pierce) County–why am I paying for King County's wastewater treatment service?
King County's wastewater service area extends into Snohomish and Pierce Counties.
In 1958 the voters created Metro and developed a regional wastewater treatment system based on watersheds as opposed to political boundaries. In 1994, King County assumed authority of Metro and its legal obligation to treat wastewater for 34 local jurisdictions and local sewer agencies that contract with King County.
The local sewer agencies that contract with King County manage, operate and maintain 5,100 miles of collection pipes along with numerous pump and regulator stations. The local agencies collect wastewater from residences and businesses and transport it to King County's regional system of pipelines, tunnels and treatment plants.
The monthly sewer rate you pay to your local utility includes the county's monthly wholesale rate, plus the rate set by your local sewer utility to cover its costs in building, operating and maintaining its local collection system.
This also explains why your monthly bill comes from your local sewer utility instead of King County - because people do not connect directly to our regional sewer system. (King County does directly bill newly connecting customers for the capacity charge they pay in addition to their monthly sewer bill - for more information see the next FAQ).
With the expansion of the wastewater system, will I be forced to remove my septic system and hook up to the sewer system?
Property owners do not connect directly to King County's regional wastewater system. Local sewer agencies
collect wastewater and contract with King County to convey and treat it at one of our regional treatment plants. Local sewer agencies decide where and when to build or extend service lines.
Wastewater treatment service is provided only within designated urban growth areas, with few exceptions. These areas are designated as part of the state's Growth Management Act (Wikipedia, external link) and local comprehensive plans. Because of those plans, we expect most homes and businesses within the urban growth boundary will likely have sewer service within the next two decades. But the exact timing would be up to the local agencies.
Local agencies may not require a home to hook up to the sewer system if the septic system is working properly. Depending on individual circumstances, hooking up to the sewer can be less expensive than building a new septic system or replacing a failed system. Contact your local government or sewer district to find out more about what is planned for your area.
Note: the Growth Management Act requires coordinated planning so that the services required by new residents and their homes and businesses are available as growth occurs. Needed services include many that are not provided by King County, such as water supply, local sanitary sewers, fire protection, schools, energy facilities, and telecommunications. King County does provide services such as regional wastewater treatment, regional solid waste management, and local stormwater management. For more information, refer to the King County Comprehensive Plan (Services, Facilities and Utilities chapter).
The sewer rate and capacity charge–what’s the difference?
- The sewer rate supports operations and maintenance. The monthly wholesale sewer rate paid by all customers generates the revenue we need to cover the cost of maintaining, operating and supporting our existing system, and covering debt service on the bonds we issue to fund the capital improvement program.
- The capacity charge supports system expansion. Since 1990, King County has levied a capacity charge on new connections to the sewer system, which these new customers pay in addition to their monthly sewer bill. The capacity charge helps King County cover the cost of sewer improvement and expansion projects needed to serve new growth. Newly connecting customers are directly billed by King County for the capacity charge. Elected officials, sewer utility representatives and jurisdiction officials were all involved in King County's decision to implement a capacity charge to ensure that "growth pays for growth". For more information, view frequently asked questions about the sewage treatment capacity charge.
I can't afford an increase in rates–what are my options?
Many of the local sewage agencies in King County have programs for residents with low incomes. Check with the sewer utility that sends you a bill to see if you are eligible. Information on local sewer agencies is available at: Local Sewer Agencies