Randy Porter

In 2009, Austin Water lost almost $53 million in revenue because of increased rainfall across Texas and lower consumption rate, said David Anders, assistant director of business support services for the utility company.

In response, this Tuesday, Austin Water enacted the new fixed Revenue Stability Fee, which will cause monthly rates to increase based on the amount of water used, he said.

“Our average customer consumes 77 hundred gallons of water and 47 hundred gallons of wastewater [monthly],” Anders said. “Currently, that costs the consumer about $64.88. Under the new rates, it will rise to $72.67, which is about a 12 percent increase [per consumer on average].”

He said the fee will most significantly impact consumers who use more than 15,000 gallons of water monthly.

Director of residential facilities Randy Porter said the Department of Housing and Food Services would certainly be affected by an increase in rates.

“Utility rates are obviously part of our expenses, and they factor into our anticipated costs,” Porter said.

He said the department has been trying to limit water usage by replacing all shower heads and toilets with low usage systems during any remodeling. He also said the department tries to educate its residents about conservation.

“We implement a lot of conservation-type programs to try to keep our costs down,” he said. “And we are always looking at ways to limit our water consumption.”

Juan Ontiveros, executive director of utilities at UT, said because these increases are targeted at large consumers they will more greatly affect the University.

“The largest rate increases that we get are always in water and wastewater,” Ontiveros said.

UT has been working hard to limit consumption, and through these efforts, UT consumes 17 percent less water than it did in 2006, Ontiveros said.

“The University uses water for its cooling systems, and by capturing the condensation from [them], we have been able to save about 39 million gallons of water,” Ontiveros said. “Additionally, the University makes all of its own electricity, and water is used in our energy manufacturing process. Cleaner and more efficient energy production at UT means less water consumption.”

He said the University has also made water conservation efforts such as shutting off campus fountains and limiting irrigation, but there is only so much the University can do to conserve water.

“Even though we do a lot of things to reduce water consumption, the campus still uses a lot of water,” Ontiveros said. “There is not much else you can do when you have 70,000 people on campus.”

Ontiveros said the University has a responsibility to use its resources wisely, which it is seeking to uphold.

“The campus is trying to be a good steward and do the right thing,” Ontiveros said. “We have always said that whatever we don’t spend on utilities, we can spend on academics.” 

Printed on Wednesday, November 2, 2011 as: Austin Water raises rates, utility costs up for some

Environmental safety concerns, a string of burglaries and building disrepair prompted a group of summer resident assistants based in Brackenridge, Roberts and Prather residence halls to submit a report of their concerns to the Division of Housing and Food Service.

In the report, RAs detailed specific incidents that occurred over the summer, including a broken water pipe, mold, pest problems and general miscommunication.

Yahya Kahn, pre-med and international relations sophomore, worked as an RA in Prather during the summer. Kahn said in one pest control situation, two residents woke up covered in ants. Maintenance responded with the pest control methods that are generally used, but Kahn said Brackenridge needs more attention than regular maintenance.

“They had ants crawling in their mouths,” Kahn said. “You can’t put a Band-Aid on a gun shot wound.”

The RA report mentioned problems with ants and Brackenridge had three pest control calls on Aug. 5 and 8, said Randy Porter, director of residential facilities at the Division of Housing and Food Services. “Ants are a typical problem in any building, especially in a drought,” Porter said.

Porter said campus dorms undergo renovations of about $12 to $13 million each summer in order of need. He said the infrastructure of Brackenridge, Roberts and Prather is about the same as when they were built in the 1930s. Porter said the community bathrooms in the three dorms will be gutted out and redone, but Littlefield, Andrews and Moore-Hill halls, which were also constructed in the 1930s, will be renovated before the dorms that the report focused on because the University did not identify them as the most needy.

He said the air-conditioning units in Brackenridge, Prather and Roberts are individual units in each of the rooms and if one room is cool and a neighboring room is warm, mold can breed.

“If students turn them off, condensation can form,” Porter said. “Mostly our custodian staff will clean it up with bleach solutions.”

Chemical engineering freshman Thomas Warnack, a current Brackenridge resident, said keeping the air conditioning on causes his room to be uncomfortably cold. He also said other maintenance issues include a shower without a nozzle and a clogged urinal, which he said leaves one restroom stall between 10 residents.

A major issue in the RA report is one that Porter said occurred in Brackenridge when a water line that fed the drinking fountains blew out. Porter and the RA report said that RAs used wet-dry vacuums to clean up the flooding as best as possible. Kahn said it was difficult to locate the wet-dry vacuums to try to clean the water, but the RAs eventually located some in San Jacinto Residence Hall.

He said he put in three maintenance requests for a toilet that wouldn’t stop flowing and was keeping the surrounding toilets from working.

When the water line blew out in the attic, Kahn said a resident called him at the front desk and the fire department responded.

The division has its own maintenance staff during the day and pays an emergency maintenance staff for situations after business hours.

“If it happens at night, it will be at least an hour before we can respond,” Porter said. “So RAs are definitely our first responders.”

Architecture senior Madison Dahl said an air conditioner spewed water into a neighbor’s dorm and left about two inches of dirty water on the floor of her Prather room in December 2009.

“All down the hallway it was wet,” Dahl said. “The water just ran down the stairs into those rooms. Right before we left for winter break, for a few weeks, it had a musty smell.”

She said the Division of Housing and Food Service covered the costs for the books that were ruined.

Hemlata Jhaveri, director of residence life at the Division of Housing and Food Service, said about 16 summer RAs help students with dorm concerns during the summer, and about 161 RAs serve in the fall and spring terms. Jhaveri said the RAs report any concerns to the hall coordinators who also live in the dorms.
According to the RA report, a lack of accessibility to hall coordinators led to problems. Kahn said there was little oversight from the coordinators.

“We’re supposed to have weekly one-on-one meetings, but that didn’t happen,” Kahn said. “A lot of what happened over the summer was miscommunication.”
Kahn said the chain of command was not clear and in some cases he did not know if he should go to the hall coordinator or go directly to the police.

Six burglaries took place in Prather from June 15 to 29, according to UT Police Department. Kahn said students should not have to worry about locking their doors when going to the bathroom.

He said RA training didn’t prepare him for the array of issues he encountered.

“You learn as you go,” Kahn said. “It shouldn’t be like that.”