SACRAMENTO (AP) — Some California residents are finding themselves in an ironic bind where they have to pay more while using less water in the drought. That’s because water agencies are losing revenue under strict conservation regimes, but still have to pay for staff, maintaining pipelines and other fixed costs.
A look at how communities across the state are dealing with this situation:
The city has had higher water shortage rates since 2009, although they are designed so residents meeting conservation goals still save money. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power says its offsetting revenue losses by refinancing bonds at lower rates and watching spending, but it has the power to increase rates to recover money.
EAST BAY MUNICIPAL WATER DISTRICT
The agency serving 1.3 million customers east of San Francisco has implemented a drought surcharge of up to 25 percent of water bills on top of rate increases. The surcharge partially makes up for less revenue but is primarily for tapping a more expensive water supply.
BELLA VISTA WATER DISTRICT
The district near Redding was forced to cut water use by half after the federal government slashed its allotment of reservoir water. It avoided financial ruin because it had a rate stabilization fund, reserves specifically set aside for a sudden drop in revenue.
The coastal community made headlines for hiking rates to activate a dormant desalination plant, but the increase also helps offset the costs of the city’s 20 percent conservation mandate. Residents are on track to exceed that goal and potentially drain millions more from the water department’s budget.
Residents in the water-frugal city aren’t paying more for conservation because the city is tapping reserves and cutting costs. But some surrounding communities that buy water from the city are looking at increasing rates after the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission increased the wholesale price of water by nearly a third.
DUBLIN-SAN RAMON SERVICE DISTRICT
The agency east of San Francisco lost access to government reservoir water, but its tiered water rates increase during drought emergencies in a way designed to keep money coming in at steady levels. The district recently reduced water rates because it collected more revenue than it needed.
The Sacramento suburb has tacked on a 15-percent surcharge for the metered portion of residential water bills last summer, which it says averages to a few dollars a month per house. The city’s water department has also tapped reserves and may increase its surcharge.
DESERT WATER AGENCY
The district serving oasis resort communities, including Palm Springs, says it faces a $10 million shortfall because of conservation but can avoid rate hikes for now. It tapped its reserves, implemented a hiring freeze and delaying needed infrastructure upgrades, but it may shift costs onto residents when it revisits rates early next year.
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