Pasadena Water Rates Set to Rise
Public hearing canceled for second time
By Gus Herrera
According to city staff’s report, the changes are “recommended to account for environmental, operational, and financial sustainability needs based on current water consumption patterns and the expectation that water conservation practices will continue to develop.”
In other words, PWP’s price of doing business has risen and they will look to the residents as a means of recovering operational costs. The city is also looking to capitalize on the success of recent conservation efforts by attempting to make lower water allotments and higher prices the “new norm.”
Specifically, staff is citing $4.9 million in increased costs for FY2018, partly due to higher imported water prices. As the City of Pasadena sources 40 percent of its water locally from the Raymond Basin, the remaining 60 percent must be imported from Northern California and the Colorado River – a feat that will inevitably continue to become more expensive.
PWP is proposing to raise two charges over the next two years: the distribution and customer charge (D&C) and the purchased water adjustment charge (PWAC).
The D&C will be raised 5.2 percent the first year and an additional three percent the following year. The PWAC will increase 0.3 percent the first year and 0.5 percent the second. According to staff’s report, the price hikes are projected to increase annual revenue by more than $3 million in the first year.
In addition to raising fees, PWP is also seeking to re-structure the water rate design itself, in an attempt to ensure Proposition 218 compliance, simplify the bill, and promote conservation as a new reality.
Currently, water is charged by the size of a customer’s meter and block allocations are differentiated by the source (i.e. groundwater vs. imported).
The proposed rate structure will categorize customers into three types: single-family residential, multi-family residential, and commercial. Those categories will then be divided into sub-classes based on the size of a customer’s property, the number of units on the property, or the historical use of a building. Water rates will also be based on blended sources (i.e. mixed groundwater and imported) in an attempt to keep prices lower.
Although seemingly more complicated, PWP staff believes that this system will more appropriately determine how much water a customer should be allocated – as the previous method of using water meters proved to be unreliable when a customer’s meter size did not match the size or needs of his/her property.
It is important to note that block allocations will be based on three-year historical averages – figures skewed as a result of the recent drought. Therefore, some blocks will be allocated less water than the current system affords – specifically, the block 1 allotment, which primarily services single-family residential customers, will be smaller than it currently stands.
PWP attributes these smaller allocations to two factors: first there is less groundwater available (a 2016 cost of service study revealed that Raymond Basin production has fallen 25 percent) and secondly, the city’s methodology has shifted from, “how much water is available by source?” to “how much water is needed for efficient use?”
“There’s no water rate structure that you can call … perfect … but this is a … structure that we are trying to align with the state’s philosophy … that conservation is a way of life,” said PWP General Manager Gurcharan Bawa.
While the city is forcing residential customers to accept the past years’ conservation levels as a new reality, it will be interesting to see what role (if any) commercial developments will play in sharing the costs.
Developments continue to be greenlit left and right – massive projects that will undoubtedly utilize a vast amount of water. Additionally, many of these developments are large hotels whose visiting customers use the city’s water but do not necessarily bear the upfront costs that residents will be asked to cover.
District 2 resident Richard L. has been following the situation closely and is concerned with the public’s lack of interest in such an important topic. He attended all three of the public outreach meetings and was unsettled by the low turnout, in addition to the city’s decision to suddenly cancel the Sept. 18 public hearing and reschedule for Oct. 16.
In the latest turn of events, on Oct. 12, the city council’s most recent agenda revealed that the public hearing scheduled for Oct. 16 has once again been canceled – no explanation was given on the report.
Richard L. believes that the city owes its residents more open information on the subject, as well as some alternative plans to the proposed actions. He also wonders why the city shifted back to three-day outdoor watering, if conservation is in fact the new normal.
In conclusion, the city’s proposals are complicated and leave many questions left to be answered. It is critical that residents attend the upcoming public hearing (date to be determined), not only to learn how they will be impacted, but to also hold their elected representatives accountable for their actions.
[This article was updated on Oct. 13 to reflect the following: according to the latest city council agenda, the Oct. 16 public hearing has been recommended to be canceled.]