City leaders and other dignitaries tossed native plant seed onto a former ballpark in the East Bottoms to celebrate the slowdown of water rate increases. The park now contains native plants and green basins to capture rainfall. Photo by Jill Draper

Tired of costly water bills? KC’s new agreement with EPA provides consumers some relief

“This is a good day, Mr. Mayor. It will reduce your hostile phone calls.”

Rising water bill rates to slow

By Jill Draper

Water bills for Kansas City residents have soared in recent years, but increases should slow down in the future. That’s because the city has reached a new agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Justice on how stormwater and wastewater are handled.

According to KC Water, the average monthly residential bill rose from $59 to $104 over 10 years since 2011. Rates were hiked to pay for a series of expensive improvements designed to fix sewage overflows and modernize the system. These improvements were mandated through a federal consent decree in 2010.

 Now that the consent decree has been renegotiated, wastewater rates are still expected to rise, but only by 6% or less each year through 2035, city leaders said. Before the renegotiation they had planned increases between 8% and 13%.

They held a media event on April 7 with remarks by politicians and regional federal officials to announce the good news. Hours and hours of negotiations made this happen, said Mayor Quinton Lucas, who noted the new agreement will reduce the cost of the entire 25-year overflow control program from $4.7 billion to $2.3 billion, a difference he called “amazing and transformative.”

U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II followed with additional comments, quipping, “This is a good day, Mr. Mayor. It will reduce your hostile phone calls.”

Negotiations began three years ago during the Trump administration when EPA relaxed some of its rules. Both Sen. Roy Blunt and Rep. Cleaver urged the administration to support modifications to the Kansas City program to help protect residents from costly rate increases.  

The approved modifications eliminate the requirement for certain expensive projects in the next 15 years such as underground storage tunnels, and extend the final compliance date from 2035 to 2040. 

The city has become a national leader in smart sewer projects, officials said, and this progress will continue in the form of more green infrastructure solutions and innovative technology, including stormwater capture basins, advanced sensors that track water volume and a biosolids project.

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