By CLARK MASON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Windsor water and sewer rates are poised to rise by 9 percent in September, but the average bill will still be among the lowest for cities in Sonoma County.
Windsor’s typical bill will go from the current $85.45 a month to $94.13. Only Rohnert Park, at an average $92, would be lower, according to a survey conducted by Windsor’s consultant.
But some people — including those who live in more than 400 Vintage Greens homes that have been getting free reclaimed water for their front yards — also are going to start having to pay to irrigate with Windsor’s recycled wastewater.
A divided Town Council on a 3-2 vote Wednesday also approved an innovative program that will enable up to 2,000 of Windsor’s utility customers — one-quarter of the town’s households — to use their utility bills to finance a variety of water- and energy-conserving fixtures and appliances.
Customers would be able to get low-flow toilets and shower heads, and energy-efficient clothes washers and refrigerators, and pay for them over five, 10 and 15 years with a surcharge on their utility bill. The town also would pay up-front costs for drought-resistant landscaping to replace thirsty lawns.
“We’re doing a really good job,” Mayor Debora Fudge said of the town’s comparatively low rates. “We’re providing innovation at the same time.”
“It’s an investment in the future,” said Councilman Sam Salmon, who said that because of more efficient overall water use in homes and businesses the town won’t have to develop as many new water sources.
Joined by Councilwoman Cheryl Scholar, the Pay As You Save Program (PAYS) for ratepayers won approval on a 3-2 vote, with Steve Allen and Robin Goble dissenting.
Allen said he had several concerns with the program, which has been used in 10 other states by various utilities, but never before in California. One of his qualms is that renters who install a more efficient dishwasher under the program, for example, could remove it when they vacate.
He was also concerned that complaints with the contractors who install toilets or new landscaping would come back to the city.
“I’m concerned we won’t get 2,000 people involved and it will be incumbent on staff to generate interest,” Goble said.
The money to pay for the improvements would come from reserves in the town’s water and wastewater fund.
The program is being funded in part with a grant from the Regional Climate Protection Authority and will be administered by the Sonoma County Energy Independence Program.
Both renters and homeowners could take advantage of the program. The idea is that cutting their water consumption and monthly bills would offset the monthly surcharge to pay for their new fixtures or appliances.
The surcharge would transfer to new occupants of a home if the customer relocates.
Windsor officials a couple of months ago had planned to raise water and sewer rates even higher than the one-time 9 percent hike that is expected to stay unchanged for at least four years. By putting off some infrastructure improvements, the rate hike was made more palatable.
The rate changes still are needed to pay for $5.7million in improvements over the next five years, including new wells, pipes, water tank re-coating and water meter replacements.
An additional $8.7 million in improvements, including a new 2-million-gallon storage tank, are being funded with fees on new growth.
The Town Council tentatively approved the new rates, but set another public hearing for July 18.
In addition to the higher rates, the town is going to begin charging for the recycled water used for irrigating school grounds, vineyards and commercial landscapes.
The homes in the Vintage Greens neighborhood have been getting the water for free since 2000 under an agreement that the town would begin charging in 2012.
The irrigation pricing is proposed to be phased in over two years. Initially, the reclaimed water will cost 40 percent of the price of potable water beginning in January, then 80 percent in January 2014.
For vineyards, pastures and other agricultural uses, recycled water rates will be less and pricing will be phased in over four years.
Windsor has less need to find ways to dispose of the reclaimed water since it hooked up to Santa Rosa’s Geysers pipeline to send its effluent to the geothermal field for conversion into steam that produces electricity
You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or email@example.com.