MUD workers

MUD crew members work on a water main break at 60th and State Streets on Jan. 30, 2019.

People who live in the Omaha area will need to squirrel away a little more in 2020 to pay for water, natural gas and city sewer service.

Higher costs for those services will start showing up Jan. 1 on bills sent out by the Metropolitan Utilities District.

Average residential customers should plan to pay nearly $6 more a month, or about $70 a year. Those who use more water or natural gas face bigger increases.

MUD says it intends to use about $20 of the average customer’s annual increase to accelerate how quickly it replaces aging water mains.

Officials have said an increasing number of breaks of older water mains are costing the district too much money and interrupting service too often.

That’s why the MUD board in 2018 phased in an increase in water rates. Costs increased by 7% in July. They’ll jump another 12% Jan. 1.

All but one of the projects planned for 2020 are east of 84th Street, but MUD says it expects to do similar work citywide in the years to come.

“We’re redefining our methods as we go forward in our approach to aging water infrastructure,” said Mark Doyle, MUD’s president.

MUD will use $16 a year of the increase to cover the higher cost to buy and pipe natural gas from elsewhere to Omaha.

Officials expect natural gas prices to rise in 2020 and say Northern Natural Gas has let MUD know that the company is charging more for pipeline delivery.

The city says it needs the remaining $34 of the average $70-a-year increase to pipe and treat waste, and pay the latest costs from $2 billion in sewer separation work.

Sewer bills can vary widely, with higher bills charged to people who use more water, said Jim Theiler, assistant director of Public Works.

The city’s 5.25% sewer rate increase for 2020 is the second of five rate increases the mayor and City Council approved in 2018.

City charges for sewer service show up on MUD bills because MUD officials decades ago agreed to bill city residents to save administrative costs.

One bit of good news: you won’t get sticker shock in 2020 from the Omaha Public Power District. The average residential electric customer should not pay more.

The OPPD board has in recent years committed to no general electric rate increases through 2021. For 2020, it didn’t increase the fee portion of the bill, either, officials say.

The utility is shifting toward more renewable sources of energy, including wind power contracts and building the state’s largest solar power project.

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