Our Views: Right vote on water fee

With a 5-2 vote for a measured series of increases in water and sewer bills, the New Orleans City Council has taken one of its most significant steps toward tackling a long-standing obstacle to the Crescent City’s future growth.

A rate increase is a tough vote for elected officials, but this was the right move to make when billions in repairs are needed to the pipes and pumps and plants of the Sewerage and Water Board.

But with Mayor Mitch Landrieu and citizen groups, we also look forward to successful efforts at the Legislature to make the system’s board smaller and more focused on its tasks and not politics. We hope that lawmakers and Gov. Bobby Jindal will give cordial consideration to the Landrieu outline for governance of the system, which will be before the Legislature next spring.

As with all long-term public works problems, the long term is quite long: It will take years for fees to go up, but it will also take years for construction and rehabilitation of water and sewer pipes. As Landrieu said, in response to calls for more hearings about the rate increases, the city is undertaking a journey, not just a one-time vote. More study is clearly not needed, given the embarrassment of boil water advisories in recent years, and looming federal deadlines for improvements.

Today, as much as 40 percent of the city’s water is lost to leakage. The issues raised by such serious flaws in a fundamental public service won’t be fixed overnight.

We hope, though, with the citizens’ group that looked at the S&WB operations, that a reorganized and refocused board can help improve efficiency and get more for the ratepayers’ buck. Businessman Gary Solomon headed the citizen task force on the system: “The task force strongly believes that it is critical to combine any increase in water rates with innovative and permanent strategies to improve customer service, reduce needless costs, and achieve more sustainable and durable water infrastructure.”

Those are big goals, and they don’t get cheaper by waiting. That is why we commend the New Orleans City Council majority for passing the rate increase schedule.