Operating Permit Fees

Frequently Asked Questions

What are operating permit fees?

All Group A public water systems are required to have an operating permit. The Office of Drinking Water collects operating permit fees to support programs that help protect public health.

Why is the state changing the fees?

In 1991, the Washington State Legislature created the operating permit program and set fees to provide revenue to support administration of the drinking water program. Prior to the 2011 legislation, the fees have never been increased even though program costs have risen. Since 1991, inflation alone has more than doubled our costs.

In early 2011, the Governor signed Substitute Senate Bill 5364, which removed the fee structure from law and directed us to adopt fees into rule. The Legislature also authorized us to increase operating permit fees. A number of water systems and their associations supported this action, saying they depend upon the state's drinking water program to help them protect their customers. We adopted rule changes to carry out these legislative mandates.

How much will I pay?

The fee structure includes a new $100 base fee for all systems and increases the per-connection fee. This structure spreads the costs of administering the drinking water program more fairly among all water systems. We will phase in the per-connection fees over three years.

You can see an estimate of your fee based on October 1, 2011 Water Facilities Inventory (WFI) data. Here's the new fee structure:

  2012 2013 2014
Base fee for all water systems: $100 $100 $100
Per-connection fee:
14 or fewer services $0.65 $0.98 $1.30
15 - 99 services $0.63 $0.94 $1.25
100 - 499 services $0.60 $0.90 $1.20
500 - 999 services $0.58 $0.86 $1.15
1,000 - 9,999 services $0.55 $0.83 $1.10
10,000 - 95,000 services $0.53 $0.79 $1.05
95,001 or more services $50,000 per year $75,000 per year $100,000 per year


Late fees remain unchanged. If assessed a late fee, a water system pays an additional 10 percent or $25, whichever is greater.

What about satellite management agencies?

Satellite management agencies (SMAs) that own multiple systems will pay a fee based on the total number of service connections for all systems owned by that SMA, plus a single $100 base fee. Click here for a list of SMA fees.

This provision doesn't apply to systems managed by an SMA. Systems managed but not owned by an SMA will pay the same fees as individual systems, and can look up their estimated fees with the online fee calculator.

How is the department reducing the impact of the fee increase?

We know this is a bad economic time to raise fees. To help ease the impact, we will phase in the per-connection fees over three years: 50 percent in the first year, 75 percent in the second year, and 100 percent thereafter.

To help offset some of the increase, we also eliminated the fees charged for monitoring waivers for water quality testing under WAC 246-290-990(1)(h).

How do I know how many service connections my system will be billed for?

For a community water system: The operating permit fee is calculated based on the total number of residential and non-residential service connections. Water systems report these numbers on the WFI.

For a noncommunity water system: The fee is based on an equivalent number of service connections. This comes from the population numbers reported on the WFI, and is calculated as follows:

  • Full-time residential population: is divided by 2.5 to get an equivalent service connection number.
  • Part-time residential population: the daily average population is divided by 25 to get an equivalent service connection number.
  • Transient population: the daily average population is divided by 25 to get an equivalent service connection number.
  • Nontransient, nonresidential population: the daily average population is calculated and divided by 2.5 to get at an equivalent service connection number.

All the equivalent service connection numbers are added together and then multiplied by the appropriate per-connection fee (from the table). Then a $100 base fee is added to get the system's annual operating permit fee.

What if my water system information is incorrect?

Operating permit fees are calculated using numbers reported by your water system on the WFI. When you get your yearly WFI, you need to review your information and update it. If you have WFI questions, contact your regional office:

Eastern Regional Office: Sarita Preuss, 509-329-2133

Northwest Regional Office: Krista Chavez 253-395-6772

Southwest Regional Office: Vacant

I have never been charged a fee in the past (or only paid $25). Why are my fees going up?

Since 1991, there has been no fee charged if your system served 14 or fewer connections. Systems serving between 15 and 49 connections have paid just $25. Currently, almost-two-thirds of Group A water systems (roughly 2,700) fall into these two categories. A recent report to the Legislature showed that many small systems are not meeting basic water quality requirements, which jeopardizes the public's health. The additional revenue will allow the state to put more emphasis on helping small water systems comply with the regulations.

Why do systems with more connections pay a lower per-connection fee?

We spend most of our time on smaller systems that have higher rates of compliance problems. The larger water systems, in general, have their own staff and need less technical assistance and program support, yet they have been shouldering much of the burden of paying for the program. The new fee structure provides a more balanced approach by requiring a share of costs come from every water system, including slightly higher rates for smaller systems. The tiered rate structure reflects this.

Why is there a cap on the fee for the largest water systems that can afford to pay the most?

The largest water systems in the state have skilled staff and significant technical, managerial and financial expertise of their own. The Legislature determined that a $100,000 cap on annual fees for these systems, a tenfold increase from their current fee, is appropriate because we don't spend as much of the state's time and resources on those systems.

Last year, my invoice showed a fee for water system certification. What's that?

By law, each water system that is required to have a certified operator must pay a yearly operator certification system fee. If there is no fee listed, you are not required to have a certified operator.

The law requires that the fees collected fully support the operator certification program. These fees cannot be used for anything else. Your fee covers your water system's share of the costs; operators pay the rest. SMAs are charged one fee based on their total service connections and equivalents.

We have heard from water systems that the annual billing statement is not clear. We made improvements so that your billing statement is easier to understand.

For more information