Typically, water utilities’ budgets are funded by revenue
collected through water and sewer rates. Revenue generated by
rates covers the costs of operations, as well as ongoing upgrades
and repairs to pipelines, treatment plants, sewers and other
State legislation also has affected the water rate-setting
process by requiring new processes for altering water rates, as
well as by requiring water conservation, which in turn decreases
the demand for water.
Conversations in the Colorado River basin about impending
wide-ranging water shortages has created an anxiety in pockets
of the West. It’s akin to a modern folk tale, a story passed
from one person to the next, that one day water will be so
scarce, whole communities will see their faucets turned off.
That hasn’t happened on a wide scale, but this winter Paonia
got a taste of that possible future.
Customers of the Fontana Water Company saw increases in their
water bills the past three years, and now even more increases
could be on the way. Earlier this year, San Gabriel Valley
Water Company filed a general rate case application with the
California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to increase water
rates in Fontana by more than 20 percent over a three-year
Up for debate will be a series of adjustments to water rates
and service fees charged for providing potable (drinking) water
service to more than 20,000 residential customers. If the
adjustments are approved, DSRSD officials estimate the average
single-family residential customer will see an annual increase
averaging about $40…
The Santa Rosa Plain Groundwater Sustainability Agency
unanimously approved a plan Thursday to assess a fee of $19.90
per acre-foot of groundwater use — about 326,000 gallons — from
the Santa Rosa Plain groundwater basin for three years. Through
2022, the agency’s major municipal groundwater member users —
namely the cities and towns that fall under the agency’s
jurisdiction, along with Sonoma Water — have agreed to pick up
the tab in place of individual groundwater users.
Four years after Montebello voters rejected the idea of selling
the public water system, city officials want to take a second
stab at it, but this time they don’t need the electorate’s
approval. The city stands to get between $15.8 million and
$22.6 million from San Gabriel Valley Water Co. The difference
is based on whether Montebello leases or sells its water
The rate hikes follow an increase of nearly 20 percent over the
past two years. EBMUD officials said the average single-family
residential customer using 200 gallons of water a day will see
their bill rise by $3.62 per month starting on July 1 and
another $3.73 per month on July 1, 2020. … The water district
says it needs to increase its water rates in order to upgrade
its pipes and infrastructure.
A second plant, similar to Carlsbad, is being built in
Huntington Beach, Calif., with the same 50-million-gallon-a-day
capability. Currently there are 11 desalination plants in
California, and 10 more are proposed. … For decades, we have
been told it would one day turn oceans of salt water into fresh
and quench the world’s thirst. But progress has been slow. That
is now changing, as desalination is coming into play in many
places around the world.
Ventura’s elected officials on Monday heard details about the
city’s current water situation, accepting a recommendation to
remain in a Stage 3 drought. … Monday’s action doesn’t mean
rates will go up — rates will remain the same through fiscal
year 2019-20, at least — but it means they won’t go down
either, as they would for some users were the city to leave the
Facing an $81 million shortfall, the Coachella Valley Water
District’s board will vote on a potential rate hike Tuesday
that their staff says is necessary to replace badly corroded —
and in some cases leaking — pipes and other infrastructure. The
increase would cost the average residential or business
customer about $5.62 per month, but would only cover two years
worth of the projected deficit.
The city of Santa Maria is reconsidering its decision to
discontinue the fluoridation of the city’s water supply after
some residents pushed back on the move at a recent City Council
meeting. Santa Maria began fluoridating its water in 2004, but
stopped last year as a cost-saving measure. According to the
city’s 2018-19 budget, not fluoridating the city’s water saves
about $48,000 annually.
Despite all the rain locally, water rates could be going up for
more than 30,000 city residents served by Camrosa Water
District. According to a five-year water rate study released
last month, Camrosa proposes residential water rate increases
each year through July 2023.
Ventura Water officials are recommending the city stay in a
Stage 3 Water Shortage Event, a position it’s been in for
nearly five years. … Stage 3 was first set by city officials
in September 2014, as the state was in the midst of a
years-long drought. It means the city’s projected
water supply is between 20% and 29% below a normal year’s
Community activist Dolores Huerta joined local leaders in East
Bakersfield to urge elected leaders Tuesday to vote in favor of
legislation they say will ensure safe drinking water for
communities in the valley. Specifically, Huerta urged the
legislature to support what’s being termed the Safe and
Affordable Drinking Water Fund. It would be financed by the tax
payers, estimated to be a one dollar per month tax increase on
every water bill in California.
Crescenta Valley Water District’s board of directors have
proposed rate increases for both its water and sewer rates. If
approved, customers could see their combined monthly bills
increase by about $7.
The proposal is to increase both base and usage rates by
approximately 40% in the first year, and by about 70% of the
current rate by July of 2023. … The last set of rate
increases ended in 2016, yet system costs have been increasing
each year due to inflation and maintenance expenses associated
with an aging system…
The Huntington Beach City Council on Monday voted to increase
local water rates for the next five years, despite receiving
691 protest letters from residents. Under the plan taking
effect July 1, most single-family households will pay $53.03 a
month — 70 cents more than now — in the first year of five
annual rate increases.
On Tuesday, May 21, the Board of Directors of the Sonoma County
Water Agencyand the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors approved
a plan to offset a fee that is likely to be imposed on
groundwater users in the Santa Rosa Plain… Under the plan,
the County and Sonoma Water would contribute up to $240,000
annually for three years to the Santa Rosa Plain Groundwater
The Moulton Niguel Water District has agreed to pay $4.8
million to settle a 3-year dispute with South Orange County
Wastewater Authority, which processes a portion of the
district’s wastewater, according to a settlement agreement
released Monday. … Moulton Niguel stopped paying capital
improvement invoices for the plant in 2016, saying it would
sign past-due checks only as part of a process to terminate its
contract to use the plant.
As the city considers changes to its wastewater rates, its
consultant, Nebraska-based HDR Engineering Inc., suggests users
that send “high strength” wastewater to the city’s treatment
system pay more because of the additional treatment costs.
Domestic septic tank/portable restroom discharges, industrial
laundry services and alcohol beverage manufacturers such as
breweries, wineries and distilleries could be affected…
A Senate budget subcommittee rejected Gov. Gavin Newsom’s water
tax plan on Wednesday, instead recommending finding $150
million elsewhere to finance a safe and affordable drinking
water fund. … The subcommittee’s decision to lock in funds
for future budget cycles could eliminate the challenge of
securing votes to pass another tax.
Atascadero residents will likely be paying more for wastewater
services starting in just a few months. The last time
wastewater rates were increased in Atascadero, President Bill
Clinton began began his first term in office and Seinfeld was
one of the most watched shows on television.
Like everyone else in Santa Clara Valley who uses wells,
farmers will see their groundwater production charges go up 6.8
percent this year. But unlike the others, they’ll continue to
receive substantial subsidies. In approving the increased
charges for well users, the Santa Clara Valley Water District
board left intact for at least two years the current structure
that allows farmers to pay only 6 percent of the amount
residents and businesses pay.
The district is considering a five-year series of rates
increases — up to 5% per year for sewer and up to 6% per year
for water. … As district staff have explained during public
meetings, much of STPUD’s infrastructure is outdated and in
need of repair or replacement. Additionally, more than 10% of
the STPUD’s water system lacks adequate water capacity to fight
a major fire.
The new rates would increase the Distribution and Customer
Charge, for all customers, by 5.7%, to generate annual revenue
of $3.4 million, effective August 1, 2019. The new rates would
also increase the Distribution and Customer Charge for all
customers in July 2020 by 5.8%, to generate annual revenue of
$3.7 million; and also increase the Commodity Charge,
increasing the system average by 0.7%, to generate annual
revenue of $0.5 million in July 2020.
We have learned over the last six years that the water need for
Santa Cruz to meet its own annual demand is 1.1 billion gallons
less than thought in 2014, when the two districts were pursuing
the desalination plant.
Coastal Commission staff on Monday reiterated to The Herald
that Cal Am can appeal the city’s denial under the state’s
Coastal Act because the city charges an appeal fee. They called
the city’s own rules “internally inconsistent” and noted the
Coastal Act’s regulations supercede local ones.
The water that irrigates Santa Clara Valley’s last farms comes
dirt cheap for growers who pump it out of the ground. They pay
just a fraction — 6 percent — of the amount residents and
businesses in the valley must pony up for their well water. The
rest of the cost for farmers’ water is subsidized, mostly from
revenue the Santa Clara Valley Water District receives through
A Q&A with Valerie Olson, assistant professor, and Emily
Brooks, post-doctoral researcher — both environmental
anthropologists at UC Irvine. They have a new project aimed at
getting a better understanding of how communities, particularly
the underserved, think about and use their water, and how the
agencies that provide water can better serve them.
Gena Jacob figures she may come out ahead, in at least one
respect, in the wake of the Tubbs fire that leveled her
Larkfield home. … Through a program created by Sonoma Water
and offered to 143 homeowners in Larkfield Estates, they plan
to connect to a new sewer line — freeing them from the
constraints of their aging septic system — with a financing
package that takes some of the sting out of the cost.
The district is proposing to raise rates by about 4 percent
annually over the next four years and to impose a new annual
capital maintenance fee. The fee, which would be based on
customers’ meter size, would switch the district from borrowing
money to a cash-based system for funding repairs and
replacement of pipes, pumps, water tanks and treatment plants.
Since Jim Madaffer became chairman of the board of the San
Diego County Water Authority, two long-time staffers have left
and talk has begun heating up about a multibillion-dollar
tunnel project to give San Diego a second connection to water
from the Colorado River. The tunnel plan would be the single
largest, most expensive and complex project the Water Authority
has ever attempted.
The current five members of the Montecito Water Board ran as
slate candidates in 2016 and 2108, and they won election
largely on the promise of recycling treated wastewater for
irrigation. A group of wealthy donors poured $200,000 into
their campaigns. Yet the new board seems in no hurry to get the
Some 22,000 California American Water customers in Thousand
Oaks, Newbury Park and Camarillo are getting far lower rate
increases than the company proposed in 2016, saving several
million dollars a year combined. Thousand Oaks officials said
this week that instead of being hit with a 32.1% hike over
three years that the company wanted to impose and which the
city actively opposed, customers only got a fraction of that.
A Superior Court judge recently ruled in favor of the city of
San Juan Capistrano, as the plaintiffs in a class action
lawsuit seeking millions in water rate refunds have been barred
from moving the case forward. … The lawsuit stemmed from the
city’s 2015 approval to issue refunds to customers who overpaid
for water under San Juan’s previous tiered water rates, which
the Fourth District Court of Appeals had affirmed as
unconstitutional in April 2015.
San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer unveiled his proposed budget
for fiscal year 2020 on Thursday, saying it includes the
highest infrastructure investment in the city’s history. …
The budget includes an infrastructure investment of $715.8
million, an increase of nearly 300% over the $179.4 million
infrastructure allocation in the city’s fiscal year 2014 budget
… More than half of that is earmarked for the city’s Pure
Water program, which aims to recycle sewage into drinking
Most states don’t tax milk, bread, fruit or vegetables because
they are essential to human life. Food tax exemptions have been
in place since the Great Depression, part of a social covenant
formed to help the neediest afford life’s essentials. But
Democratic Sen. William Monning of Carmel is leading an effort
to tax something even more essential than groceries. Tax bills
now under consideration seek to tax the water we use in our
San Jose Water, the local water company, recently sent out a
public notice saying it wants to impose a year-long surcharge
beginning this summer. The reason? To recover what it described
as an “under-collection” of more than $9 million in fixed
costs. … In other words, thank you for following the rules
and limiting your water usage, but that’s hurt our bottom line,
so we’ll be sending you a bill.
As the Marin Municipal Water District gears up to consider
another rate and fee hike this year, some of the public debate
has turned to whether the district is paying too much in
salaries and benefits to its employees.
The water tax will require a two-thirds vote in each house.
Democrats have that and a little to spare. Still, the governor
will need to use all his power of cajolery and coercion to win
passage of any tax increase.
Behind every toilet flush and faucet turn that draws on a
public water system, there’s an entire industry making sure the
water meets certain standards. … But McKeon and others in the
field worry about a looming shortage of water-treatment plant
operators, as a wave of older operators hits retirement age.
McKeon fears that in the next 10 years, there won’t be enough
operators to monitor and control every public water system
Rate increases are being proposed in part to help pay for
improvements to the Regional Wastewater Control Facility, which
is set to go through the first phase of a modification project
aimed at extending the life of existing amenities at the plant.
The modification project will also improve working conditions
for employees, and bring the site into compliance with national
pollutant discharge standards.
After a seven-year drought finally came to an end this winter,
California has been hit with a deluge of vibrant greenery and
super blooms. But we’re still keeping an eye out for how to
make our own backyards more sustainable and water-friendly.
The Santa Clara Valley Water District, Santa Clara County Board
of Supervisors and Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority all
recognize the importance of curbing urban sprawl, encouraging
farm-to-fork enterprises, and providing open space for urban
dwellers through various policies. However, well-meaning
changes may have unintended consequences, putting these goals
Customers of the South Tahoe Public Utility District (STPUD)
may be looking at an annual increase on their water and sewer
bills of 5.0 to 8.5 percent to cover costs of replacing aging
infrastructure and enhancing local fire protection.
Feasibility of a potential public buyout of California American
Water’s local water system should be based on a consulting
team’s advice on an acquisition plan that could succeed in a
public necessity court trial while seeking cost savings for
local ratepayers… That’s according to a recommendation from
Monterey Peninsula Water Management District general manager
Dave Stoldt to be considered on Monday.
The view from my window here in central California is of a
front lawn almost as dried out as the fairways at Carnoustie,
Scotland. Like many of my neighbours I’m concerned about
climate change and with it the exorbitant price of water. After
my monthly bill tripled, I decided it was time for a new
strategy. I shut down the sprinkler system and tested a new
aesthetic. To my delight, I discovered that brown is beautiful.
The San Diego County Water Authority’s General Manager notified
the region’s water board on Wednesday that she is retiring.
Maureen Stapleton has held the top job at the agency for more
than two decades. She led the Water Authority through the
complicated settlement negotiations surrounding the Colorado
River. Stapleton also encouraged projects like the Carlsbad
Desalination plant as a way to diversify the region’s water
San Diego’s water department is going through the second
major shakeup in less than a year. At least five senior
officials are out, including one who once tried to waive off an
audit of the city’s troubled “smart” meter program. In January
2018, the department’s assistant director, Lee Ann
Jones-Santos, said auditing the city’s effort to replace
280,000 water meters might make that $70 million program look
Newsom has embraced an idea that has previously failed to gain
traction in Sacramento: new taxes totaling as much as $140
million a year for a clean drinking water initiative. Much of
it would be spent on short- and long-term solutions for
low-income communities without the means to finance operations
and maintenance for their water systems. … But the money
to change that — what’s being called a “water tax” in state
Capitol circles — is where the politics get complicated.
Redlands’ wastewater treatment facility needs $40 million in
upgrades soon thanks to years of deferred maintenance,
officials say. But it could be worse – building a new
facility would cost $100 million. The original plant was
built in the 1960s, and the last major changes were made in
American Canyon will continue looking to the proposed, massive
Sites reservoir in Colusa County to someday help slake its
thirst. The city of about 20,000 residents is the only Napa
County city without a local reservoir. It depends on the
state’s North Bay Aqueduct that pumps water out of Barker
Slough, a dead-end slough in the Solano County portion of
Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
Of the handful of speakers at the California Water Service
hearing Tuesday, none supported the proposed rate increases for
Chico, objecting to high costs, compensation to
high-level executives and profit made by shareholders.
The new report, “Sustainable Landscapes on Commercial and
Industrial Properties in the Santa Ana River Watershed,”
explores how landscape conversion on commercial and industrial
properties can reduce water use, increase stormwater capture
and groundwater recharge, improve water quality, and reduce
greenhouse gas emissions and pesticide use.
Water sustainability continues to be a complex issue and will
require young, innovative minds to tackle it. This was the
theme of the 2019 Innovators High Desert Water Summit, held
Friday at High Desert Church. Hosted by the Mojave Water
Agency, the event was titled “How Generation Z Will Save the
Future of Water in California.” About 320 students, parents,
and teachers from schools all over San Bernardino County
Martinez City Council agreed Wednesday to start the process of
revising it water rates to make its fee system “defensible.”
Many residential customers would see increases as a result,
although a few customers with large meters will see their rates
Questions about financial liability and concerns over weighted
votes among member agencies of the Central Coast Water
Authority prompted the Santa Barbara County Board of
Supervisors to take no action on transferring the state water
contract to that joint-powers agency. … CCWA has been
trying to have the contract reassigned since it was formed in
1991, but the Department of Water Resources would not agree to
the request because it was unclear if a joint-powers agency
could levy a property tax if a member defaulted on financial
San Juan Capistrano is looking to unload its water utility, as
maintaining the system is expected to become costly for the
community. The city is one of very few in south Orange County
that manages its own water operations. After a 10-month review
of the options, the City Council discussed on Tuesday,
Feb. 5, which agency – Moulton Niguel Water District,
Santa Margarita Water District and South Coast Water
District – the city should enter into an exclusive
negotiation agreement to acquire its water system.
Different from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s water tax proposal to fix
decaying water systems in poor communities, the proposal before
the State Water Board is focused on providing water service
rate relief for California residents struggling to make ends
meet. It is modeled after existing programs that offer
low-income assistance rates for electricity and gas service.
Low-income Californians can get help with their phone bills, their natural gas bills and their electric bills. But there’s only limited help available when it comes to water bills.
That could change if the recommendations of a new report are implemented into law. Drafted by the State Water Resources Control Board, the report outlines the possible components of a program to assist low-income households facing rising water bills.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed state budget recently
included a drinking water tax that would cost Santa Clarita
homeowners 95 cents per month to help disadvantaged communities
clean up contaminated water sources. Santa Clarita residents
paying the tax would see their water bill increase by $11.40
per year if the proposal is approved.
In September of 2018, the Public Policy Institute of California
(PPIC) released the report, “Managing Drought in a Changing
Climate: Four Essential Reforms”, which asserted there are five
climate pressures affecting California’s water… The report
recommends four policy reforms: Plan ahead, upgrade the water
grid, update water allocation rules, and find the money.
San Diego is in the midst of spending roughly $3 billion on a
massive new water treatment system, but city officials can’t or
won’t tell customers how that will affect their water bills.
New water recycling plants will eventually purify enough sewage
to provide a third of the city’s drinking water. In
December, Voice of San Diego asked the city to estimate how
much customers’ bills will increase because of the Pure Water
project. The city, after weeks of delay, finally declined
last week to offer any estimate because “there is no simple
calculation” they could perform.
Terms were revealed this week for a developing water sales
agreement between the Montecito Water District and City of
Santa Barbara. The 50-year water sales agreement
provides 1,430 acre-feet of water a year to Montecito, at
a cost of about $2,700 per acre-foot. The terms of agreement
allow for the possibility to purchase and receive 445
acre-feet of additional water each year.
Water well owners in Sonoma County may get billed for their
annual water usage under a proposed water-conservation plan up
for discussion next week at a community meeting in Santa Rosa.
The Santa Rosa Plain Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) is
hosting the Jan. 30 meeting to hear feedback on its proposed
“groundwater sustainability fee,” which would provide funding
to support the new agency.
Doing surgery on San Francisco’s water system is no simple
task. Replacing one mile of distribution main costs about $3.8
million dollars. That’s just the direct cost of installing a
section of drinking water pipe. There are also side effects:
disruptions to traffic, sidewalks, and businesses when streets
are pried open. In one of the nation’s densest and highest-cost
cities the expense amounts to an incentive for well-informed
decisions about what to dig up and when.
A long-standing feud over who should pay a $650 million bill
for state water infrastructure reared its head Tuesday, as
board members of Santa Clara County’s regional water district
weighed whether to raise water bills or ramp up reliance on
The Alameda County Water District is proposing to raise
customers’ bills 8 percent over the next two years to cover
infrastructure costs as well as salary increases, benefits and
pensions for its employees. The district also wants to
create an emergency pricing schedule that kicks in during water
shortages, such as in droughts.
Nasdaq, along with Veles Water and WestWater Research, has
announced the launch of the Nasdaq Veles California Water Index
(NQH2O), the first of its kind water index that benchmarks the
price of water in a way that supports price discovery and
enables the creation of a tradable financial instrument.
The budget specifically calls out funding for Safe and
Affordable Drinking Water. It discusses the need to find a
stable funding source for long-term operation and maintenance
of drinking water systems in disadvantaged communities, stating
that existing loan and grant programs are limited to capital
A proposed Colorado River drought plan that will cost well over
$100 million is just the beginning of what’s needed to protect
the over-allocated river, says Bruce Babbitt, the former
governor who rammed through Arizona’s last big water
legislation nearly four decades ago. After Gov. Doug Ducey
urged legislators to “do the heavy lifting” and pass the
proposed drought-contingency plan for the Colorado, Babbitt
said Monday that authorities will have to start discussing a
much longer-term plan immediately after it’s approved.
California’s failure to provide safe, affordable drinking water
to the remaining roughly 1% of residents is probably the most
solvable and affordable of California’s many difficult water
problems. There will always be isolated small systems
with vexing problems, but the number of Californians currently
without access to safe affordable drinking water is
embarrassing and irresponsibly high.
In a 5-3 vote Wednesday that — intriguingly — fell along gender
lines, the Phoenix City Council approved an increase in water
rates, starting next month. “I thank the women to have the
leadership and courage to do the right thing. 5-3,”
Interim Mayor Thelda Williams said. … Wednesday’s
vote overturned the council’s previous rejection of
the proposed increase, on December 12, that was also 5-3.
Tackling what promises to be a controversial issue, Gov. Gavin
Newsom proposed a tax on drinking water Thursday to help
disadvantaged communities clean up contaminated water systems.
Newsom’s plan for a “safe and affordable drinking water fund,”
included in the new governor’s first budget proposal, attempts
to revive an idea that died in the Legislature last year.
To subsidize drinking water bills for poor households,
California regulators recommend new taxes on bottled water and
incomes above $1 million a year, according to a draft proposal
released by the State Water Resources Control Board. If the
$606 million proposal, or an alternate version, is accepted by
the Legislature, California would be the first state in the
country to run a water bill assistance program.
The State Water Resources Control Board will accept public
comments on the draft report on Options for Implementation of a
Statewide Low-Income Water Rate Assistance Program. The report
analyzes options for the design, funding, and administration of
a program as well as other options to improve water
affordability. Comments are due Feb. 1.
A new study out of Stanford University finds that 10 percent of
the total carbon dioxide spewed from California, Oregon,
Washington and Idaho for power generation this century is the
result of states turning to fossil fuels when water was too
sparse to spin electrical turbines at dams.
State utility regulators have not provided the public clear
information about water-rate increases or made sure that
suppliers notified customers about hearings related to those
rate hikes, a new state audit has found. The California Public
Utilities Commission also failed to conduct audits of private
water utilities as required by law, according to findings
released Tuesday by the California State Auditor.
Palm Desert resident Randy Roberts filed a class-action
lawsuit against the Coachella Valley Water District on Dec. 3,
claiming the cash-rich agency is illegally taxing
non-agricultural homeowners and businesses and has diverted
more than $60 million to fund projects that often benefit large
farmers. … Roberts, a longtime critic of the water
district, charges it has violated state voter-approved laws,
including Prop. 13 and Prop. 218, and the constitution.
In the universe of California water, Tim Quinn is a professor emeritus. Quinn has seen — and been a key player in — a lot of major California water issues since he began his water career 40 years ago as a young economist with the Rand Corporation, then later as deputy general manager with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, and finally as executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies. In December, the 66-year-old will retire from ACWA.
An offer last week by the San Diego County Water Authority
board chairman to settle a host of litigation with the
Metropolitan Water District of Southern California was not well
received by water officials to the north. MWD leaders accused
their San Diego counterparts of violating an agreement to
negotiate in private and abruptly canceled a meeting previously
scheduled for Tuesday.
San Diego County water officials, who have been mired in legal
disputes with their counterparts to the north over billions of
dollars in rates and methodology, proposed a sweeping
compromise Thursday that, if accepted, could end years of
acrimony and expensive litigation.
If water were priced according to demand, many Westerners would
be smelly and thirsty. But water is a necessity, and
demand-based pricing would be unethical. … In California, for
example, state law Proposition 218 outlaws water prices that
are higher than the cost of providing water.
A state commission will formally consider whether the San Jose
Water Company has over-billed customers by millions of dollars
for years. On Friday, the California Public Utilities
Commission (CPUC) announced that it had opened an investigation
into the company’s billing practices after a staff
report suggested that for at least 30 years, San Jose Water
failed to pro-rate bills when a change in service charges went
into effect in the middle of a billing cycle.
When customers started complaining early last year about
spiking water bills, authorities downplayed the situation.
Water department officials repeatedly said that leaky toilets,
broken sprinklers and the rising cost of water were likely to
blame, even as customer complaints flooded into the agency’s
public hotline for months.
Critical permits and legal challenges are still pending, and
some farming groups still haven’t committed to paying for part
of Gov. Jerry Brown’s controversial $17 billion Delta tunnels
project. But even with the uncertainty, backers of the project
are poised to ask the Trump administration for a $1.6 billion
federal loan that millions of Californians ultimately would
have to repay through increases in their water bills.
Recognizing that complying with federal requirements can cause
water utilities to raise rates, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.)
introduced a bill this week aimed at helping low-income
households pay their bills.
In contrast to the federal government’s chronic underinvestment
in the pipes, pumps, and plants that supply and treat the
nation’s drinking water, America’s large cities are forging
ahead with fresh spending to modernize their systems.
… The largest price increases occurred in California,
where major utilities are in a construction frenzy to cleanse
dirty water for reuse, gird pipes against earthquakes, and
respond to water-supply vulnerabilities that were exposed
during the five-year drought that ended last year.
Tracking how much Americans spend on infrastructure starts with
defining the sector. In this case, we mean the essential
services related to public works: water and sewer, electricity
and gas, transportation, telephone, and broadband.
The day of reckoning is drawing near for Huntington Beach’s
long-planned desalination plant, which would help quench Orange
County’s thirst with sea water and free up imported water for
the rest of the Southern California. Twenty years and $50
million into the process, officials with plant purveyor
Poseidon are optimistic they will get their final two permits —
possibly by year’s end.
Water bills in San Francisco are set to rise steadily over the
next four years, after the approval of a rate schedule by the
city’s Public Utilities Commission. … In addition
to funding the commission’s regular operations, the rate
increases will pay for a series of ambitious infrastructure
upgrades to the city’s sewer system and vast Hetch Hetchy
network that sends drinking water to 2.7 million Bay Area
The Tahoe-Truckee area’s water agencies say they oppose a
budget trailer bill that is part of Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed
2018-19 budget. The bill, according to the Association of
California Water Agencies, is essentially a modified form of
State Bill 623, dubbed the “Safe and Affordable Drinking Water
When the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California
voted to finance the lion’s share of the delta tunnels project,
some on the board called it a bold stroke of leadership. The
delegations from Los Angeles and San Diego, however, called the
move alarming, financially risky and irresponsible.
As part of his final budget proposal, Gov. Jerry Brown wants
new fees on water to provide clean and affordable drinking
water to the approximately 1 million Californians who are
exposed to contaminated water in their homes and communities
each year. … About 100 state residents who lack access to
clean drinking water will head to the Capitol today and join
with several lawmakers to support Brown’s proposal …
Max Gomberg, the State Water Resources Control Board’s climate
and conservation manager, says the price of water has increased
at six times the rate of inflation across the state. Gomberg’s
agency is currently drafting a set of recommendations that will
help the state legislature develop a financial assistance
program for residents with soaring water rates.
Hundreds of frustrated and angry residents turned out Thursday
night for a city-held public forum at Mira Mesa Senior Center
to address surging water bills — a long-simmering controversy
that has now reached a boiling point.
Citing the need for more deliberation, California regulators
delayed publication of a report that will outline their
preferred plan to fund and manage a statewide program to help
poor residents pay their water bills. As water rates increase
in the United States, governments and utilities are exploring
new forms of financial aid.
America is facing a water infrastructure crisis. … Investing
more in the country’s water infrastructure would help—which the
Trump administration and other federal leaders appear to be
considering in 2018—but simply throwing more money at these
problems does not necessarily address another enormous
challenge facing utilities and the communities they serve:
All utilities, to varying degrees, shut off water service to
households who do not pay bills. Shutoffs, utilities argue, are
an essential tool for maintaining financial health. They are
the leverage that ensures payment. The universe of U.S. water
utilities is vast and varied. There are more than 50,000
systems that serve 15 or more people year-round.
Utilities from California to Florida are seeing their expenses
drop dramatically with the GOP tax overhaul, which could save
these regulated electric, gas and water utilities billions of
dollars each year. … California is home to numerous
investor-owned utilities, ranging from Pacific Gas & Electric
to private water companies.
The California Public Utilities Commission has amended its
long-standing mission statement, leaving out the idea of
ensuring “reasonable rates” for the water and power used by the
public. … Spokeswoman Terrie Prosper said the change has
not affected the commission’s dedication to making sure water
and power costs are affordable for California consumers.
A Native American tribe in Northern California was appalled
last month when Shasta County demanded an extra $1,000 in
penalties for their water bill. Thirty members of the Winnemem
Wintu Tribe, ranging in age from 1 to 70 years old, live in a
cluster of trailers on 42 acres of land that is zoned for a
The California Supreme Court effectively brought to end this
week a longstanding, bitter fight between water managers in Los
Angeles and San Diego — a ruling that means the loss of
billions in potential savings for local ratepayers.
The San Diego County Water Authority has lost a major legal
battle to reduce the price of San Diego’s water. For years, San
Diego water officials argued the region’s major supplier of
water, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California,
charges too much to deliver water to San Diego from the
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of households
earning less than $US 15,000 per year grew more between 2000
and 2015 than any equivalent segment of the income
distribution. At the same time water rates, driven by the cost
to maintain or replace water treatment plants and delivery
pipes, are rising at double or triple the rate of inflation.
As California water agencies prepare to vote next month on
paying for the tunnels, which are supposed to improve water
deliveries to the southern half of the state, the stark
difference between urban and rural water users’ expected costs
illustrates one of the project’s main stumbling blocks.
More than 6 million Southern Californian households could pay
$3 more a month to help cover the costs of Gov. Jerry Brown’s
controversial plan to bore two huge tunnels under the
Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
An effort by California officials to carry their success with
water conservation beyond the drought is not sitting well with
local water managers, many of whom are eager to shake off
state control. … The proposal was met with howls of
protest from many local water agency leaders, who say
budget-based water rates are too costly and complicated to
adopt. Some also object to state meddling in water rates,
historically the sole province of local water utilities.
During drought, people conserve water. That’s a good thing for
public water agencies and the state as a whole but the reduction
in use ultimately means less money flowing into the budgets of
those very agencies that need funds to treat water to drinkable
standards, maintain a distribution system, and build a more
“There are two things that can’t happen to a water utility – you
can’t run out of money and you can’t run out of water,” said Tom
Esqueda, public utilities director for the city of Fresno. He was
a panelist at a June 16 discussion in Sacramento about drought
resiliency sponsored by the Public Policy Institute of California
The East Bay Municipal Utility District is spending $120,000 to
resend all of its 385,000 account holders a notice of a
proposed 19 percent rate increase after discovering the first
mailing omitted 15,000 to 20,000 customers. … Under the
state’s voter-approved Proposition 218, public agencies must
mail out a notice of rate increases 45 days before adopting
Belying their reputation as conservative institutions that
resist change, large U.S. water utilities, in response to
slow-motion social and hydrological shifts that alter water
availability and use, are showing signs of creativity. The
inspiration is reflected in their rates, which continue a
relentless, but slowing, upward climb. … The challenge
for utilities today is threefold: earn enough revenue to repair
broken pipes, keep water affordable for the poor, and do so
while selling less of their product.
The California Courts of Appeal has 90 days to decide the fate
of a water rate dispute between a Los Angeles-based water
wholesaler and San Diego County water managers. At issue is the
cost of moving water through the Metropolitan Water District’s
In his 100-day action plan to “Make America Great Again,”
President Trump proposed privatization as the best strategy for
fixing the country’s infrastructure, including roads, bridges
and water systems. That’s already happened in Lake County’s
Lucerne and other small towns like it throughout California —
and it’s not working out very well for people like the Cruz
Last week, a judge ruled against the city of Glendale for
violating Proposition 218 in creating its current water
rate-pricing structure first adopted in 2014, in a lawsuit
brought by the Glendale Coalition for Better Government.
The Desert Water Agency Board of Directors unanimously approved
a significant rate hike Thursday, the first in a series of
five increases that — if all are eventually approved
— could result in an almost 80 percent increase to
customers’ bills over the next four years if all are passed.
In a case that could have statewide ramifications, a group
of multimillionaire Hillsborough residents, including an early
funder of Microsoft, has sued the town claiming that its
drought rules and penalties intended to keep people from
over-watering big lawns are illegal.
After examining water use data and water agencies’ urban water
plans, [Heather] Cooley and her colleagues found that while
water use stayed stagnant or declined in some areas, many
utilities were projecting increased water use in the future,
which shows they’re not allowing for efficiency improvements
and so they could be overestimating demand, which could
increase costs for rate payers for water they may not use.
An acrimonious fight over a water-rate increase in Orange
County will culminate Tuesday when voters decide whether to
recall two of their local water district’s board members and
whether to reelect a third.
Prompted by a 2015 state law, the State Water Resources Control
Board has begun designing a program to provide state aid to
individuals and families who need help paying their water
bills. Due to the Legislature by February 1, 2018, California
is determined to be the first to use state funds to subsidize
water service for poor residents, water rate experts say.
It wasn’t just generous spring rains filling north-state
reservoirs that had California’s urban water districts pushing
back so hard against mandatory water cuts this year. All those
brown lawns and shorter showers have cost them millions in
The latest skirmish in the water wars asks the cryptic
question: When is water not really water? The answer, it seems,
is when words in an 83-year-old law – a law conceived long
before the notion that recycled sewage was anything but
disgusting – essentially negate its existence.
Residents of El Porvenir, threatened with water shutoff in
August as their neighbors in Cantua Creek were last year, are
getting financial relief from the state. … In April, the
farmworker residents of the tiny western Fresno County town
rejected a higher water rate over five years that amounted to
about $5 a month the first year.
How much money does the water district have, and how much does
it really need? … Yorba Linda’s case is a high-stakes test of
the power of Proposition 218, which gave Californians the power
to repeal or reduce any local tax, assessment or fee.
This is the time of year when water utilities set their rates,
which almost inevitably go up. But this year, the rate hikes
are likely to be higher than usual, as water utilities cope
with the unexpected impact of mandatory conservation on their
In a move that even Clovis city officials agree is unlikely to
bolster water conservation efforts, the city is changing its
water rate structure so that residents using less will pay
more. New rates will go into effect July 1 if the City Council
approves them Monday night.
The cost of drinking water and sewer services in the United
States, rising on average at twice the rate of inflation, is
giving birth to a new civil rights movement, one based on
access to water and sanitation for the poor.
Citing potentially higher costs that would be passed on to
customers, Orange County’s largest provider of water to homes
and businesses is intensifying its opposition to a key
supplier’s plan to buy desalinated water from a proposed $1
billion Huntington Beach plant.
More than five years after the Monterey Peninsula Water
Management District was barred from collecting a user fee on
California American Water bills to pay for Carmel River
mitigation and other work, the California State Supreme Court
ruled the state Public Utilities Commission had no authority
over the fee.
The board that oversees the Los Angeles Department of Water and
Power on Tuesday approved the utility’s plan to increase water
rates about 4.7% each year over the next five years. …
Utility officials have said they need the approximately $330
million in additional revenue to repair aging water pipes and
A coalition of groups representing cities, counties and water
agencies filed a proposed ballot measure Monday that would
allow water providers to reestablish so-called tiered pricing
as a means of encouraging conservation.
In Great Oaks Water Company v. Santa Clara Valley Water
District, originally issued March 26, the Sixth District Court
of Appeal found that the water district’s groundwater pumping
fees are property-related fees subject to Proposition 218. …
The Great Oaks opinion, however, reached a different conclusion
than the Second District Court of Appeal reached in City of San
Buenaventura v. United Water Conservation District, issued
Four years into the worst drought in California’s recorded
history, the contrast between the strict enforcement on
Californians struggling to conserve and the unchecked
profligacy in places like Bel Air has unleashed anger and
indignation — among both the recipients of the fines, who feel
helpless to avoid them, and other Californians who see the
biggest water hogs getting off scot-free.
The drought is driving up water rates all over California as
utilities scramble to cover revenue losses and pay for
additional supplies. There will be no relief for low-income
residents, who are caught in a legal conundrum that prevents
most water agencies from discounting their rates.
Eighteen months ago, Marcie Edwards became the first woman to
lead the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the
country’s largest publicly-owned utility, and it wouldn’t have
happened without a stint as a “pit critter.”
The Marin Municipal Water District has set a public hearing as
it looks to raise rates to deal with reduced water consumption,
the drought and land management responsibilities. It is also
looking at establishing a “drought surcharge” option.
At a nearly four-hour public hearing attended by more than 150
customers at the [Helix Water] district’s University Avenue
headquarters, the board approved charging more to its nearly
270,000 customers through 2019-20.
We interviewed Ken Baerenklau, a UC Riverside economist and
adjunct fellow with the PPIC Water Policy Center, on the role
of pricing to mitigate scarcity during droughts, and the need
for fair and economically sensible prices.
Water agencies save some costs when they deliver less water;
for example, they need fewer chemicals to treat water and need
to buy less water itself. But the majority of other costs are
fixed, including running treatment plants, paying off
infrastructure and paying workers’ salaries.
It was hailed as a modern makeover of an aging, inefficient way
to bill customers. Instead, the new system at the Los Angeles
Department of Water and Power became a nightmare, spewing out
thousands of faulty bills, some wildly inflated.
In a setback to California water regulators’ conservation
efforts, the state Supreme Court has kept intact a ruling that
makes it harder for municipalities to impose tiered pricing to
discourage heavy water use.
Rejecting the pleas of California officials worried about water
conservation, the state Supreme Court on Wednesday left intact
a lower court ruling that makes it tougher for cities and water
districts to impose punishing higher rates on water wasters.
San Francisco County Superior Court Judge Curtis E.A. Karnow
found that the MWD had charged San Diego too much for the use
of its aqueduct to bring water from the Colorado River under
San Diego’s deal to buy water from the Imperial Irrigation
Since it was created more than 100 years ago, the Department of
Water and Power has been a titan of Los Angeles, controlling
not just the city’s access to vital resources but billions of
dollars in revenue that has helped gain influence at City Hall.
Los Angeles Department of Water and Power officials are seeking
an increase in rates over the next five years in a bid to boost
water conservation amid California’s drought and expand repairs
of crumbling water mains and electricity infrastructure.
California Gov. Jerry Brown called for an overhaul in water
pricing as part of his sweeping drought order, and regulators
on Wednesday will discuss how to best do that in light of legal
questions over rates designed to encourage conservation.
It was not the sort of tremor that Californians prepare for
with flashlights, evacuation plans, and Hollywood scripts. But
a state appeals court ruling on April 20 hit the state’s water
utilities with earth-shaking force.
The California attorney general’s office has asked the state
Supreme Court to depublish a controversial ruling that it
argues will impede the state’s ability to encourage
conservation by charging people higher rates when they use
excessive amounts of water.
As East Bay water officials on Tuesday were about to increase
rates and impose the toughest penalties yet against water
wasters, Raven Brown had one concern. She’s held off from
bathing her dog, which has fleas, for fear her water bill would
go up and she might be fined.
East Bay residents will see an average 24 percent hike in their
water bills, starting next month, after the East Bay Municipal
Utility District on Tuesday approved a bump in rates, largely
to make up for revenue lost during the drought.
The homeowner and securities specialist paid huge water bills
under the steep tiers recently declared illegal by the 4th
District Court of Appeal, and he recently filed a claim in
Orange County Superior Court to try to recoup the thousands he
once thought were gone for good.
Facing a lawsuit from cities over its pumping rates, the Water
Replenishment District of Southern California called in the big
guns. … Two weeks ago, the WRD settled the case, agreeing to
pay the cities that sued it $9.1 million.
It started with a few ticked-off residents of the Orange County
town of San Juan Capistrano. The city was charging them too
much for water, they argued, in violation of the California
Constitution, courtesy of Proposition 218, a taxpayer-revolt
law passed in 1996.
The court held that since Proposition 218 prohibits charging
more for a service than it costs to provide, the policy of
charging higher rates to users of more water was
unconstitutional. … But a careful reading offers an opening
to continue conservation incentives if agencies carefully
Gov. Jerry Brown is sticking to his statewide mandatory water
conservation targets, his administration said Tuesday, even as
a new appeals court ruling limits the ability of cities and
water districts to hit people with punishing rates to encourage
them to save water.
In a ruling that Gov. Jerry Brown says puts a “straitjacket” on
local governments trying to fight the severe statewide drought,
an appeals court has found that an Orange County city’s tiered
water rates are unconstitutional. … It comes shortly after
Brown issued drought orders that call for rates that encourage
people to save water, including tiered pricing.
An appellate court Monday struck down a Southern California
city’s method of charging water users based on a tiered-rate
system, a potential setback to municipalities across a parched
state laboring to curtail water consumption under Gov. Jerry
Brown’s recent order.