Why are Florida Water Bills So Darn High?

Photo by Phil Goodwin on Unsplash

Florida water bills are high. As I said in a recent article that explored reasons why U.S. water bills are increasing, when I moved to Florida, I was shocked by the high cost of water in the state. Right now, the highest bill for our first net-zero solar home renovation is water.

But how does the cost of water in Florida compare with the rest of the country? I set out to find out.

Water & Wastewater Utilities in Florida

Logo of the Florida Public Service Commission which oversees Florida water bills as well as other utilities.

Let’s look at rates and regulations first.

The Florida Public Service Commission (FPSC) is a quasi-executive, quasi-legislative agency in the Florida state government that is a regulatory authority for essential services: Electric, natural gas, telephone, water, and wastewater.

The FPSC regulates private, investor-owned water and wastewater companies in 38 of the 67 Florida counties, including Lee County where I live. They don’t regulate utilities that are owned by counties or municipalities but do have some jurisdiction over some of these businesses. For instance, they provide certification and oversee rate regulations for municipal utilities. 

If consumers have problems with non-regulated utilities, the FPSC does what it can to help.

Ultimately, it is the FPSC’s responsibility to ensure that consumers in regulated counties receive safe, reliable, and affordable services. And when a jurisdictional, rate-base-regulated waste or wastewater company wants to change its rates, it must get permission from the FPSC.

Each request is followed by extensive investigation to ensure that rates are, as they put it: “fair, just, and reasonable.” But the commission also has a responsibility to ensure that utility investors earn a “reasonable return” on their investment.

Because there are so many entities involved, it’s difficult to unravel issues like Florida water cost per gallon, Florida water bill average cost, and even Florida water bill assistance. But I’m going to give it a go before I compare Florida water bills with those in other states.

How Are Water Rates in Florida Set?

Aerial photo of filtration ponds for wastewater treatment, which is a portion of Florida water bills.
Water bills include the cost of processing wastewater, besides the cost of the water itself. Photo of filtration ponds by Ivan Bandura on Unsplash

For clarity, while there are more than 50,000 water utilities in the U.S. as a whole, the FPSC lists more than 100 water and wastewater utilities in Florida. This includes Utilities, Inc of Florida, a national water services corporation headquartered in Chicago.

Utilities, Inc., provides residential water and/or wastewater services in 17 U.S. states, including Florida where it falls under the jurisdiction of the FPSC. In Florida alone, it has more than 12 service companies operating in different areas.

Because I currently live in Lee County, I’m going to focus on this area for a moment.

Lee County Utilities, the City of Cape Coral, and the Florida Governmental Utility Authority (FGUA) also supply water and wastewater utilities to Lee County (in addition to Utilities, Inc.). I am currently a City of Cape Coral customer.

  • Lee County Utilities is a division of the county’s Department of Public Utilities in Southwest Florida.
  • The City of Cape Coral is a municipal (government) operation that manages utilities including water and wastewater in the city. There are about 189,000 people who live in Cape Coral, and the city has more than 60,000 water and sewer system accounts. 
  • The FGUA owns and operates more than 98 water and wastewater utility systems in 14 counties, including Lee County.

These, and most other water and wastewater utilities in Florida, have designed their rates with a base facilities charge plus a charge per gallon for water. The FPSC calls this a “gallonage charge.”

The base facilities charge is a flat fee that covers the fixed costs of the service. It stays the same every month and is not affected by water consumption. The gallonage charge varies and is assessed in terms of the utility service associated with the production and distribution of the water service as well as the removal, treatment, and disposal of wastewater.

While the rate structure of individual utilities does vary, the gallonage charge is usually assessed for every 1,000 gallons or 100 cubic feet of water that registers on customers’ meters.

Because not all of the water is returned to the wastewater system, utilities set a cap on the wastewater gallonage charge billed from water consumption. This is usually set somewhere between 6,000 and 10,000 gallons. 

As mentioned above, when rate-base-regulated waste or wastewater companies want to change their water rates, they need permission from the FPSC.

When utility companies do increase rates, it can make a big difference to your water bill.

Water Rates & Fees Charged in Florida

I’m going to highlight the rates charged for water in my part of Florida.

Utilities, Inc. of Florida recently upped its rates, and there is comparative data in the next section.

Lee County Utilities has a relatively simple fee structure. The most expensive fees are for single-family dwellings that pay a base charge of $9.15 for water and $17.50 for sewer every month. There’s a small $3.44 or $3.43 (why there is a 1c difference is not explained) admin fee for each.

Residential single-family user fees range from $3.27 for 1,000 gallons (1,000-6,000 gallons) to $6.54 for 18,001 and more. The sewer cost ($5.85 per 1,000 gallons) is the same for all residential consumers.

The City of Cape Coral also has a relatively simple fee structure. They have two sets of rates: commercial rates and rates for residential, duplex, and multi-family dwellings.

Water rates are governed by meter size and range from $17.32 per month for a ⅝” meter to $1,992.58 for a 10” meter. There is also a commodity charge per 1,000 gallons for water that ranges from $3.90 for 0-5,000 gallons to $12.44 for 30,000 + gallons.

Sewer rates range from $21.07 to $2,423.02 according to the meter charges mentioned above. There is a $9.04 per 1,000 gallon sewer commodity charge for metered water consumption.

FGUA rates vary according to the area. For instance, the charges in the North Fort Myers area are lower than in nearby Lehigh Acres. For example:

  • The North Fort Myers rates (as of October 2020) for base facility water services range from $13.09 for a ⅝” x 3/4” meter to $649.15 for a 6” meter. All residential consumption charges are $7.71 per 1,000 gallons of metered water.
  • The Lehigh Acres System rates (as of October 2020) for base water services range from $15.50 for a ⅝” x 3/4” meter to $1,781.16 for a 10” meter. Residential consumption charges start at $5.68 per 1,000 gallons up to 6,999 gallons and increase to $8.50 over 18,000 gallons.

Florida Water Cost Per Gallon

Applications for rate increases are a good indicator of the rising Florida water cost per gallon. They also show how much some very small utility companies charge. All applications shown here allow public input, which can prevent a utility from increasing its rates.

You can compare these with rates and fees charged by your water utility.

Recent Applications for Rates Increases

Photo of hands holding a pen, reviewing a document on a table top.
Applications for rate increases by utility companies in Florida have to be reviewed thoroughly before they are approved. Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash

The most recent applications for water and wastewater rate increases in Florida that are listed by the FBSC, were made between July and October 2020. The applications all give a detailed breakdown of their current rates vs. proposed rates for both water and wastewater services. The reason for each rate increase request is also given. This is just a sample of the data provided:

  1. In June 2020, Lake Yale Utilities, LLC, which only has about 300 residential customers in Lake County, applied for an increase in water and wastewater rates. The reason stated was a combination of capital costs and operating expenses. It has never had a rate increase.

The application for base facility charge increases, based on meter sizes, ranges from $10.35 increasing to $10.73 to $828.00 increasing to $858.40 for a ⅝” x 3/4” and 8” meter, respectively.

The utility asked for an increase in water cost per gallon based on $16.02 (the current cost) to $22.40 for 3,000 gallons, $21.69 to $36.01 for 6,000 gallons, and $25.47 to $47.67 for 8,000 gallons–all significant increases.

Consumers objected to the application for a rate increase, which does not appear to have been approved.

  1. Also in June 2020, McLeod Gardens Utilities, LLC, a sole proprietorship with only 95 residential customers in Polk County, asked to be allowed to increase its water rates. It also stated capital costs and increased operating expenses as the reason. Its last rate increase was in 2002.

The application for base facility charge increases, based on meter sizes, ranges from $11.88 increasing to $14.78 to $594.03 increasing to $739.00 for a ⅝” x 3/4” and 6” meter, respectively.

The utility asked for an increase in water cost per 1,000 gallons based on $26.73 (the current cost) to $37.23 up to 5,000 gallons, $41.58 to $70.93 up to 10,000 gallons, and $56.43 to $115.88 above 15,000 gallons.

A decision is still outstanding.

  1. In July 2020, Utilities, Inc. of Florida applied for an increase for its residential customers in the 10 counties it services, including Lee. Its last approved rate increase was in 2017.

The application for base facility charge increases, based on meter sizes, ranged from $11.71 increasing to $13.24 to $1,697.95 increasing to $1,920.14 for a ⅝” x 3/4” and 10” meter, respectively.

The utility asked for an increase in water cost per 1,000 gallons based on $16.66 (the current cost) to $18.85 for 3,000 gallons, $23.23 to $26.28 for 6,000 gallons, and $28.15 to $31.84 for 8,000 gallons.

The company cited significant investment in upgrading water and sewer infrastructure as a primary reason for the application. They said they wanted a fair ROI.

The new rates have been effective since May 15, 2021.

  1. In October 2020, Sunny Shores Utilities, LLC, applied for a rate increase three months after an index rate increase was implemented. The company provides services to 262 residential and two general service water customers in Manatee County. Wastewater services are not included.

The motivation for the increase includes the need to establish a customer deposit, implement a meter replacement program, and cover increased operating expenses.

The application for base facility charge increases seems considerably more substantial than any of the others but is based on quarterly rather than monthly water bills. Currently, the base facility charge is $74.97 plus a charge per 1,000 gallons to 10,800 gallons.

The increase application is based on meter sizes and ranges from a new fee of $73.62 for a ⅝” x 3/4” meter to $3,681.00 for a 6” meter. The utility asked for an increase in water cost per gallon based on $74.97 (the current cost regardless of gallonage) to $84.15 for 3,000 gallons, $94.68 for 6,000 gallons, and $108.72 for 10,000 gallons.

A decision is still to be made.

According to a September 2020 Fitch ratings report, the water and wastewater rates in the City of Cape Coral have remained “flat” since 2014 and they are not expected to increase “in the near future.”

However, I am aware that in 2018, City residents had to chip in thousands of dollars each to fund the Utility Extension Project (UEP) which has increased water and sewer costs for small property owners. The UEP is part of the City’s capital improvement plan to connect residents on wells and septic systems to the City’s utility system.

Florida Water Bill Average Cost

Photo of a household faucet running water into a sink with bubbles.
The EPA estimates that 70% of household water usage in the U.S. is indoors. Photo by Benedetta Pacelli on Unsplash

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the average U.S. family uses about 300 gallons of water every day, about 70% of which is used in the house.

Presumably, this is for a family of 3-4 people because the EPA also states that every American uses an average of 82 gallons of water a day at home. It puts a figure of $1,000 a year, citing United States Geological Survey (USGS), 2015, as its source.

According to Statista, in 2019, an average U.S. family of four using about 100 gallons each every day, was paying $72.93 for water every month (about $875.16 per year.)

The Highest & Lowest Water Bills in Florida

But here’s the surprise. I don’t know how much the stats have changed, but in 2015, the consumer rights group Food & Water Watch found that Charlotte County’s community water system’s residential customers paid the highest water bills in Florida–an annual average of $545.52. That’s below the national average!

Their research, highlighted by LawnStarter, a national company that offers outdoor services including landscaping and lawn care, lists what they reckon are the 8 highest-paying areas in Florida for water bills. These are their average annual water bill costs:

  1. Charlotte County (Punta Gorda) $545.52
  2. West Palm Beach $445.02
  3. Cape Coral $441.84 (which is where I live)
  4. Daytona Beach $405.36
  5. Clearwater $403.92
  6. Palm Bay $372.72
  7. Miramar $372.37
  8. Melbourne $370.20

The lowest Florida water bill average costs they list are even more surprising when compared to the national average:

  1. Miami-Dade $116.46
  2. Toho (Kissimmee) $123.96
  3. Orlando $138.67

According to the Charlotte County Utilities Department, the main reason its operating costs are “so high” is that they get water from an outside supplier–the Peace River-Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority. It maintains that most other water utilities supply their own water.

Even though Charlotte falls under the jurisdiction of the FPSC, the Peace River-Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority is an independent special district and regional water supply authority that provides wholesale water to four counties and the City of North Port. Like Charlotte, Manatee falls under the FPSC. The other two, Sarasota and DeSoto, don’t.

There is a Board of Directors that decides on all issues from water quality to rate increases. The 2021 rates were set in August 2020.

According to the Authority, one of its core values is to avoid the “water wars” that occur in other counties where conflict over water supplies is intense.

Research undertaken in 2019 by The RENTCafe Blog, which bases its data on various official U.S. Government and other stats, found that at $6 per month, Florida has the lowest water costs. Since this is lower than even the lowest Florida water bills in the earlier Food & Watch research, it may not be reliable information. But all indications are that across the board, Florida hits the bottom of the scale.

Some other interesting stats come from the more recent 2019 U.S. Municipal Water & Wastewater Utility Bill Index for 50 U.S. cities produced by Bluefield Research.

They analyzed water and wastewater rates and the impact they had on residential water bills. The report mentions three Florida cities. They say the average waste and water bills in Jacksonville and Tampa remained unchanged from 2018 to 2019. Those in Miami went up by only $1.81.

Florida Water Bill Assistance

person counting money
Help is available if your water bill is too high. Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Regardless of how low some Florida water bills are, many people need assistance with their water bills. Some simply can’t pay them, and others, faced with unacceptably high bills, need to know who will help unravel excessive, unexplained bills.

In all instances, if you need help with your water bill, contact your utility company first. As I said in 12+ Reasons Why Your Water Bill is So High (Easy Fixes), many utility companies confirm that consumers commonly pay unusually high water bills and don’t bother to contest them. This is clearly because they simply don’t want to risk being without water services!

Dealing With Unusually High Water Bills

It happens, and it may not be your fault. If it isn’t your fault, contesting your water bill is the way to go.

In 2017, Florida Today reported that the largest water suppliers in Florida’s eastern Brevard County were losing tens of thousands of dollars from unusually high water usage that they were forced to credit to customers. Often, the reason for exceptionally high water use remained a mystery.

Some utilities blamed Hurricane Matthew. Some found leaks. Others found that water meters had failed because of the hot, humid weather in the south of Florida.

Customers aren’t normally credited with the whole bill, but many do manage to get some sort of a refund.

Florida Today tried to get data from the largest water utilities in Brevard to explain their high, unexplained water bills in 2016.

Most (37%) customers in Cocoa asked for credit because of leaky pipes. Leaky toilets were blamed by 17.5%, and 15.7% could find no explanation for their unusually high water bills. The city blamed Hurricane Matthew for some of the water loss.

In Melbourne, one customer got a monthly bill for 590,700 gallons. The meter was correct, but the sprinkler system was faulty. The city adjusted the bill, granting a water credit of $1,444.12 and a sewer credit of $2,164.60.

Conclusion

My experience is that water bills in Florida are high. But my research shows that there are immense variables.

My research mission continues, so if you want to know more, please sign up to receive news and articles from our team. You can also follow us on social media.

This is a learning adventure we want to share with you!

Erin Shine

Erin Shine

Founder | Attainable Home

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1 thought on “Why are Florida Water Bills So Darn High?”

  1. I live alone with very few guests visiting me except for one or two people who stop by occasionally. My water bill has jumped up to $ 90.55 recently and I don’t know why. I know there was a 7% increase some time ago but it was Never this high. Please keep me posted as to why this might be. I called the water authority office and didn’t get a clear, definitive answer . These prices are incredible for 1 persons water bill every month. HELP!!!!!
    I live within 3 miles of Englewood and their prices are about Half of what mine is. REALLY???????

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