Today at Garland City Hall, four cities (Plano, Garland, Mesquite and Richardson) gathered for an announcement that affects the lives of 750,000 people living in these cities. We’ve been paying  for water we aren’t using.

“We are losing tens of millions of dollars at the expense of our taxpayers because the North Texas Municipal Water District’s current rate methodology is outdated and does not incentivize water conservation,” Plano City Manager Bruce D. Glasscock said in a press conference today.

Here are the numbers:

Garland, since 2006, their greatest year of usage, paid $28 million for water not used.

Mesquite, since 2002, their greatest year of usage, paid $36 million for water not used.

Richardson, since 2001, their greatest year of usage, paid $36 million for water not used.

Plano, since 2001, our greatest year of usage, paid $78 million for water not used.

City officials for Plano, Garland, Mesquite and Richardson have been working to remedy this for quite some time. “It’s clear that in today’s environment, [these rates] are outdated and unfair to rate payers and not consistent with conservation efforts,” Glasscock continued. The rates were once, presumably, reasonable, back when all four cities were far smaller and conservation was not the issue it is today. It can’t be denied, however, that the situation has changed.

In an unprecedented move, the Mayors of these four cities are asking the Public Utility Commission (PUC) to conduct a review of their water rates with the North Texas Municipal Water District (NTMWD). Each city mayor spoke today, explaining that the water rates set by the NTMWD 60 years ago are discriminatory, inconsistent with water conservation and, overall, are not in the public interest. They estimate that the four cities have paid a total of $178 million for water they did not use.

To make any changes to NTMWD’s rates, all 13 cities in the district, and the Water District’s Board of Directors, must come to a unanimous agreement. City officials in Plano, Garland, Mesquite and Richardson  hope that PUC can help them all come to a more efficient, cost-effective and conservative rate, since all four cities agree that they don’t want to leave the water district.

According to Glasscock, these four cities work well together, making this a natural merger.  As for the cost of raising this case, officials in these cities say that the cost of continuing to pay for unused water far outstrips any cost of trying to fix the problem.

“For many years, we have been trying to rectify the disparity in the effective rates that currently exist,” Glasscock said. “We have actively participated in every possible process to seek a solution that all 13 member cities and the water district could agree upon. But it is evident that due to our lack of bargaining power with the North Texas Municipal Water District, negotiating among ourselves will not result in the much needed changes. Asking the Public Utility Commission for this review is the next step.”