Beginning July 1, water rates in the city of Atlanta will increase 12 percent.

The rate hike is the final phase of a four year rate increase package that was approved by the Atlanta City Council in 2008.

Janet Ward, a spokeswoman for Atlanta’s Department of Watershed Management, said the increases are needed to upgrade the city’s sewer system.

By the late 1990s, the sewer system was so antiquated that it frequently leaked sewage into the Chattahoochee River. As a result, the city was sued by the Upper Chattahoochee River Keeper, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division and several downstream communities like Columbus and LaGrange, Ward said.

“Every time it rained there were stories about people finding condoms and toilet paper in the streams behind their houses,” Ward said. “The EPA was fining the city daily.”

The water and sewer rate increases, beginning in 2003, were necessary to pay for a complete overhaul of the city’s sewer system to comply with a federal mandate.

The city of Atlanta measures water usage by CCF, or one hundred cubic feet. There are 749 gallons of water per hundred cubic feet. On average, a family of four uses 8 CCF per month. Under the new rate structure, 8 CCF will cost $150.72.

Money from a municipal option sales tax is also funding the infrastructure improvements.

“It’s provided about a third of the funding for Clean Water Atlanta,” Ward said. “It allows visitors to the city and people who work in the city but don’t live in the city … a way to chip into the cost.”

Ward said this is the last planned rate increase for the city.

“At some point in the future, virtually every city in the country is going to have to do this,” Ward said. “It’s a big problem for a lot of cities, especially the older cities. … What Atlanta is doing is at the forefront of what is going to happen all over the country.”