WatchSonoma Watch

Santa Rosa residents to get break on sewer bills


If you were compelled to water your lawn this winter but worry your Santa Rosa sewer bill will soar because of it, fear not.

The city’s Board of Public Utilities signed off on a plan Thursday to change the way sewer rates are calculated to ensure ratepayers aren’t penalized for irrigating during one of the driest winters on record.

The board unanimously approved a plan to calculate next year’s sewer bills using people’s water usage from this winter or from last winter, whichever was lower.

The change should appease ratepayers concerned that their sewer bills would spike next year because they watered their lawns and plants during the winter, which in normal years is largely unnecessary.

“We have been getting tons of calls throughout the winter about it,” said Patty Kutches, revenue manager in the city’s utilities department.

The water flowing into a home is tracked by meters, but wastewater leaving the home must be estimated.

Sewer bills are calculated by multiplying the sewer rate, which is currently $12 per thousand gallons, by the number of gallons of water estimated to be used from the toilet and tap each month, known as the sewer cap.

During normally wet winter months, from November to March, the city assumes no irrigation is occurring at homes and businesses, and sets the average of those months as the sewer cap, which is used to calculate sewer bills for the following year.

If for example, a homeowner uses 4,000 gallons on average in the winter, the sewer usage charge will be $48 per month. If that same homeowner irrigates their lawn and usage increases to 12,000 gallons, their monthly sewer bill would soar to $144 per month.

The utilities department has created a billing program that will automatically compare the two years of winter usage and use the lower of the two to calculate 2012-2013 bills, Kutches explained.

Board member Stephen Gale said the move demonstrates that the board, which has raised water and sewer rates by 116 percent over the last decade, is sensitive to ratepayers’ concerns about higher bills.

9 Responses to “Santa Rosa residents to get break on sewer bills”

  1. GAJ says:

    41 employees at the Water Agency make over $100,000/year with retirement benefits of 3%/year and they can retire at 60.

    In fact ALL the f/t employees have that ridiculous 3%@60 vesting for retirement.

    Half the employees, (there were 274 employees in 2010), earned $70,000/year or more in 2010.


    Here’s a story from Portland:

    “By mid-2015, they’re projected to hit $137 a quarter, likely to push Portland’s water bills significantly above the average for the 50 largest U.S. cities. Adding in projected sewer charges, already among the nation’s highest, Portland’s combined water and sewer bill would total $346 a quarter in five years.”

    We’ve already got Portland’s worst case numbers for 2015, (which are amongst the highest in the nation), beat by a large margin today!


  2. @GAJ says:

    Don’t just guess about salaries. Know what you’re posting about.

  3. Steve Klausner says:


    “Sewer fees are due to the decision to build a pipeline to the Geysers to dispose of tertiary treated wastewater.”

    Just over the hill, Lake County is pumping secondary treated wastewater into their steam fields. Why treat it to drinking water standards if you are going to heat it up to 2,000 degrees? Santa Rosa has one of the most expensive wastewater systems in the world. Scary thing is the rest of the state is now looking to us as a model.

  4. GAJ says:

    This link suggests Santa Rosa has perhaps the highest water rates in the US…from the article the average home uses about 300 gallons per day with a monthly bill approaching $150.

    Only Santa Fe is over $100/month with a usage of 400 gallons per day.

    I’m guessing the average pay and bennies for Santa Rosa water employees is off the charts compared to other cities.


  5. Frank Matters says:

    the min is 2.5 people per household
    do i get a carbonfoot print credit
    or will the the sewer people charge me and my two dogs as three

  6. Mr. PepperSpray Pike says:

    I understand that the name of “Bear” translates into “sour” in various other languages. Or was it “bitter.” Can’t remember.

  7. Canthisbe says:

    Despite a worsening financial crisis, the City of Santa Rosa is nearing completion on its most expensive building, a $40 million complex to house the workers and vehicles that maintain the city’s water and sewer lines.
    The first two phases were paid for out of cash reserves from the city’s water and sewer fees, while the third required the city to sell $25 million in bonds, which also are repaid though water and sewer rates. Those rates have been on the rise for years, helping the Utilities Department budget to increase 5 percent over the same two-year period that the city’s General Fund, which depends largely on sales and property tax revenue, has plunged 22 percent.

    At the time The Geysers steam production and reservoir pressures were declining rapidly, the communities of
    Lake County, City of Santa Rosa, and other municipalities were trying to find solutions for their treated sewage
    waters. From the early 1990s, Lake County started looking into piping its treated waters into The Geysers. Studies
    showed that injecting wastewater could achieve two critical objectives at same time: first, as a continuous supply
    of steamfield recharge water that could help mitigate The Geysers productivity decline; and second, as an effluent
    disposal method that would be environmentally superior to conventional surface water discharge methods currently in use. Slowly they built consensus on the project and a partnership was developed between public and
    private sectors.
    After two years of construction, the pipeline was formally dedicated on October 16, 1997. The total construction
    cost was $45 million, including $37 million for the pipeline and $8 million in wastewater system improvements.


    Based on these facts, it should be clear to everyone that Santa Rosa’s sewer fees are as high as they are to pay for the Geysers pipeline and that the new Sewer
    Palace did not have any part in the higher sewer rates – or maybe not.

  8. bear says:

    You’re simply and completely wrong.

    Sewer fees are due to the decision to build a pipeline to the Geysers to dispose of tertiary treated wastewater. The wastewater comes from all of the cities in central Sonoma County. It provides a source of water to inject into the steamfields. The ones that produce electricty for you.

    Argue the facts, not fantasy.

  9. Living in Paradise says:

    Santa Rosa sewer fees are egregious. They were put in place to pay for a $40 + million dollar training center for public works employees.

    The calculation was typically faulty from the get go. They have raised water and sewer bills 116% over the passed 10 years by their own admission. Only now does that good socialist Stephen Gale, board member, tell us they are sensitive to rate payers.

    Where have they been for the past 10 years? I will tell you where, living in the cocoon of an insular board that has too much power to tax and abuse our tax dollars.