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Water, Sewer Rates to Rise Again; Drought Surcharges to Apply

EBMUD water and sewer rates are expected to rise again.

EBMUD water and sewer rates are expected to rise again.

Just two years after a large rate increase, the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) is expected to raise water and sewer rates again, and the new plan will include drought surcharges.

The EBMUD Board of Directors will hear oral arguments against the proposed rate increases in a hearing on June 9th, and the utility will accept written protests against the increases up to the end of the public comment period of the hearing.

However, the increases are assured to go through, as the agency benefits from the provisions of Proposition 218, which was passed by California voters in 1996 and requires 50 percent of taxpayers to object to the increase rather than a majority of taxpayers to approve the new rates.

An Alameda County Civil Grand Jury found flaws in the utility’s process that lead to the increases in 2013, saying that EBMUD wasn’t transparent enough.

The grand jury report also noted that, with regards to the objection process, “the public’s only recourse to a rate increase is for more than 50% of the affected residents to submit protest letters. These letters must be submitted prior to the board’s vote on the rate increase. EBMUD has 384,000 ratepayers. There is no reasonable probability that 192,000 people would be motivated to submit such protest votes.”

EBMUD’s notice of the public hearing, including the proposed new rates and drought surcharges, is online here.

The utility says that 25 percent of the district’s single family residential water customers use less than 4 units of water per month; those users will see their rates go up by $2.07 per month in July of this year, and another $2.19 in July of next year.

High water consumers – those in the 95th percentile will see hikes of $30 per month in total over the same two year period.

Drought surcharges would apply to single family residential water users that consume less than seven units per month – the median – at different amounts, depending on the declared drought stage.

Regarding EBMUD’s water supply and treatment process, Action Alameda News asked Abby Figueroa, Senior Public Information Representative for EBMUD, some questions:

AAN: How much treated water is recycled by EBMUD and what is done with it?

AF: In 2014, EBMUD recycled about 10.5 million gallons per day of water. Most of this was done by one customer, Chevron, which uses the water for its cooling towers and in its boilers. A significant amount of recycled water is also used by the San Ramon Valley Recycled Water Program (in conjunction with Dublin San Ramon Services District) for EBMUD irrigation customers like golf courses and parks.

AAN: Is there any program or study at EBMUD to look at recharging underground aquifers with treated water? My understanding is that water is filtered by the ground, rock, shale etc. as it makes it’s way down below the earth.

AF: EBMUD does not have jurisdiction over the groundwater basins within our service area, yet. The state legislation that passed last year on groundwater management may change that but there’s still a lot to be debated and considered. That said, in recent years we did do a small pilot project at a site in San Lorenzo to explore the possibility of groundwater recharge in that area. We are also exploring options in the San Joaquin Valley where we would bank water from our Sierra reservoirs in their local aquifer and withdraw part of it in future drought years.

AAN:How much treated wastewater daily does EBMUD dump to the Bay? (Whereupon recycling means desalination.)

AF: Last fiscal year we treated about 60 million gallons per day at our wastewater treatment plant in Oakland. About 2.4 million gallons per day of that was recycled. The biggest challenge to expanding recycled water systems is cost. Recycled water is permitted for nonpotable uses (irrigation for example) but requires a parallel distribution system. Installing the “purple pipe” in an already congested urban area and replumbing customers is the biggest cost. But additionally, I like to point out the geography we have to work with. The wastewater treatment plant is optimally located in West Oakland along the shoreline. The sewer systems in the area use gravity to move sewage to our plant, which keeps power costs down. But any recycled water coming out of the plant has to be pumped uphill in the opposite direction, increasing the cost of delivery. No easy answers or cheap solutions, in other words.

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