Water fees to rise across Lehigh County in 2024, with $100 annual jump expected in Allentown
ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Residents throughout Lehigh County will face increased water rates next year, with the average bill in Allentown expected to rise by about $100, coupled with a sewer-fee hike for the city.
This month, the Lehigh County Authority's Board of Directors unanimously approved rate hikes across all 14 municipalities it serves.
Water fees in the LCA’s Suburban Water Division are set to increase by 3.9%, roughly $13 more than 2023 fees, as projected by the agency.
However, Allentown residents will experience a more significant rise of 11.6% in 2024, as LCA plans to raise both water and sewer fees in the city.
For a resident using 15,000 gallons quarterly, water bills are expected to surge by approximately $25 to $245. Consequently, the resident will pay nearly $1,000 for water and sewer services next year.
According to an LCA chart, this amount aligns closely with the average annual water-and-sewer bill in the Lehigh Valley. Residents in South Whitehall Township and Nazareth, served by private companies, pay over $1,500 annually for similar services.
Capital costs are also on the rise, as the LCA seeks to recover funds invested in various Allentown projects over the past decade, mandated by a 50-year lease agreement signed in 2013.
Liesel Gross, CEO of Lehigh County Authority, explained that the "capital-cost recovery charge" is a requirement of the lease agreement, and Allentown residents contribute to paying off projects completed by the LCA over several decades through this charge.
“The Allentown Division rates are more of an anomaly because they fall within the terms and methods included in the 50-year lease agreement with Allentown."Lehigh County Authority CEO Liesel Gross
City residents pay off projects completed by the LCA over several decades through the recovery charge, Gross said.
And more projects are on the way. The authority’s 2024 budget shows it plans to spend almost $17 million on capital projects in Allentown next year after spending about $6.3 million on those projects in 2023.
Its wastewater capital expenses in Allentown are set to jump from $8.3 million to $14.8 million, according to the budget proposal.
“The Allentown Division rates are more of an anomaly because they fall within the terms and methods included in the 50-year lease agreement with Allentown,” Gross told board members Nov. 13.
Though the Lehigh County Authority is responsible for providing water and sewer services across the county suburbs, its bylaws “prohibit the mixing of revenues” from Allentown and its suburbs.
“Water and sewer revenues collected from our customers in Suburban communities may not be used to pay for expenses associated with the Allentown Division lease agreement, or vice versa,” the agency’s website says.
The authority says it will need about $600 million over the next 10 years to upgrade aging infrastructure, increase its capacity and solve other issues in more than a dozen municipalities, Gross said this month.
That cost is not included in 2024 rate increases.
Projects would include upgrades to Kline’s Island on Union Street in Allentown and the authority's industrial pretreatment plant in Fogelsville, as well as pipe and pump expansions.
Lehigh County Authority plans a series of public meetings next year to collect input from residents of the 15 municipalities affected by the plan.Lehigh County Authority
Each municipality’s sewer-collection system also needs to be upgraded.
LCA published a dedicated website and is planning a series of public meetings next year to collect input from residents of the 15 municipalities affected by the plan.
No plan is yet available for how to cover the $600 million price tag, but Gross said it will be shared with residents at public meetings.
State and federal environmental officials have had regulatory oversight over the authority for more than a decade due to capacity challenges.
The state Department of Environmental Protection set a March 2025 deadline for the Lehigh County Authority to submit an Act 537 plan for its service area.
Those plans, required by all municipalities, “provide for the resolution of existing sewage disposal problems, provide for the future sewage disposal needs of new land development, and provide for future sewage disposal needs of the municipality,” according to the DEP’s website.