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Santa Rosa council to debate water rate hike Tuesday

By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Water rates are set to continue their seemingly inexorable rise in Santa Rosa and many nearby communities this year with the Sonoma County Water Agency proposing to charge cities more for the water they buy from the agency.

To raise money for planned upgrades to its system, the agency is proposing to raise its wholesale water rates — the price it charges cities and water districts in Sonoma and Marin counties for water — by 5 percent starting July 1.

Under the plan, the wholesale price of water would increase from $672 per acre-foot of water to $705.

waterCosts to users will go at a lesser rate. Santa Rosa officials expect the city water rates to increase 2.1 percent when the higher water costs are passed on, said David Guhin, director of the city utilities department.

That’s in addition to the 2 to 5 percent increases in the combined water and sewer bills that went into effect 2012 and 2013.

The latest mid-year increase is no surprise. Three years ago the city switched to a system in which it passes any increase in the wholesale cost of water onto ratepayers when the increases occur July 1. Prior to that the city absorbed the higher water costs until water and sewer rates were reset, which happens every two years.

The mid-year increases over the last three years have been between two and three percent.

But in Santa Rosa, where water and sewer rates have more than doubled in the past decade, any increase in utility rates is closely scrutinized by users.

Last month county water officials outlined for the city’s Board of Public Utilities some of the reasons for the increases. Among those are several upcoming infrastructure projects.

One is replacing the fish screen and fish ladder to improve the ability of young salmon to survive the agency’s water diversion system at its inflatable dam on the Russian River at Mirabel. The costs are estimated at $3 million to $4 million.

Another project involves seismic upgrades to the pipeline beneath Sonoma Avenue, a project that will cost $3.2 million and is expected to get underway soon.

The third and potentially most expensive project is for habitat improvements to protect young fish in Dry Creek from the powerful discharges from Lake Sonoma. If efforts now underway to make the creek safer don’t work, the agency could be required to stop releasing water into the creek from Warm Springs Dam, and instead build a pipeline at a cost of up to $140 million.

Depending on the solution, water agency officials said they expect wholesale water prices will need to increase 5 to 6 percent per year for the next five years to cover the costs of habitat improvements in Dry Creek, which are the result of 2008 study by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Guhin said raising prices now in preparation for future projects will reduce the amount the agency will need to borrow to complete the work, and thus reduce the costs.

The Board of Public Utilities has recommended the City Council accept the price increase. The Council will consider the issue Tuesday, and must decide whether to sign off on the increase.

(Contact Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevn.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com.)





12 Responses to “Santa Rosa council to debate water rate hike Tuesday”

  1. andrew simpson says:

    Water rates go up fast.

    But wait. Isn’t this just to provide better service to the Water Agency’s end users?

    Yes.

    But not the 500,000 end users one would expect: our County’s citizens.

    The Water Agency’s real end users—that is to say, the persons and entities to whom the Water Agency has dedicated itself—number 50 or less.

    Those 50 or less Water Agency end users are the folks who own the County.

    They’re campaign contributors and special interests. They’re the decision makers to whom their hired help, the Supervisors, report. They’re the beneficiaries, in circle-of-life fashion, of rate increases.

    This isn’t conspiracy. It’s civic culture. Here’s an example.

    The Water Agency-with Board of Supervisors blessing—took $15 million of rate payer money and invested it in Sonoma County Energy Independence (“SCEIP”).

    SCEIP is a failed solar energy lending program sponsored by the Water Agency. The $15 million was taken from rate payers to prop up SCEIP after these bad outcomes:

    1) The Water Agency borrowed $45 million from County Pension funds to start loaning money to home owners and businesses to install solar and energy saving equipment
    2) The Water Agency promised to pay back the County Pension Fund with refinancing from the banks
    3) the Federal Government blacklisted SCEIP loans from being resold in the mortgage markets
    4) The banks refused to refinance SCEIP loans, knowing they couldn’t resell them in the mortgage markets
    5) that meant that the County Pension fund was stuck with tens of millions of illiquid, unmarketable long term loans to SCEIP and to the Water Agency
    6) the County Auditor/Controller falsely stated that the loans to SCEIP/Water Agency were of good quality, ignoring the fact that the Pension Fund had already incurred, but had not recorded, a principal loss on its loans to SCEIP owing to their illiquidity and consequent decline in market value
    7) Adding insult to economic injury, it turned out that market sources of capital for solar equipment—including no money down leases—were better deals than could SCEIP could offer
    8) With no more access to County Pension Funds—and with an unattractive product in any event– Water Agency and the Supervisors were faced with collapse of SCEIP. We explain below the threat and significance of this pending collapse.
    9) Hence in the face of this pending collapse of SCEIP, the Water Agency propped up SCEIP with $15 million of rate payer money, obviously without consulting the rate payers.

    Here’s why propping up SCEIP with a $15 million dollar water rate payer subsidy was against the public interest. It’s because no public interest was served by SCEIP in the first place.

    For example, SCEIP was supposed to create jobs and lower CO2 emissions. For the $60 million invested—the $45 million taken from County Pension Funds and the $15 million taken from rate payers–, there were 70 jobs created. Paid out over two years, that’s $30 million/70 jobs = about $400,000 per job. Let’s say that again: SCEIP cost $400,000 per job created. And reduced unemployment—that’s roughly 20,000 unemployed out of 220,000 County work force—by 70/20,000 or .004 (.4%). The impact on our County wide CO2 emissions reduction goal was identical: .004 or .4%.

    In other words, SCEIP did nothing for jobs creation nor for CO2 reduction.

    So why did the Water Agency—with the Supervisors’ blessing—both initiate SCEIP, then continue to throw rate payer money after it, long after SCEIP became the new albatross (pensions and roads being the old albatrosses) around the County’s neck?

    The Water Agency’s $15 million investment of rate payer money in SCEIP makes no sense if the rate payers were also the Water Agency’s primary end users.

    But the rate payers aren’t the main end users.

    The Water Agency’s main end users are the 50 or so campaign contributors and special interests who make the decisions in the County of Sonoma.

    (With apologies: this explanation, like peeling an onion, is tedious but may bring tears to your eyes)

    Here’s the punch line.

    The reason SCEIP exists is to create by stealth the administrative infrastructure, legal precedent and renewable energy platform needed to launch Sonoma Clean Power—AS A WATER AGENCY AFFILIATE.

    OK. But so what?

    Sonoma Clean Power is a six billion dollar capital project, albeit now boxed in the non-threatening, Tinkertoy packaging of a “starter kit” deal with Shell Oil.

    Sonoma Clean Power is an unlimited credit card for the Water Agency to let no-bid/no work contracts to the 50 persons and entities who own Sonoma County, and to their friends.

    Sonoma Clean Power isn’t just pensions and roads redux; it’s not just the new new thing in insider corruption in Sonoma County. It’s the straw that can break our fiscal back and turn the County of Sonoma into the next Vallejo.

    The reason your water rates are going up has absolutely nothing to do with increased costs of service. The reason your water rates are going up is that the Water Agency needs your money to launch Sonoma Clean Power. The Water Agency needs Sonoma Clean Power because the Water Agency’s true end users—the County’s 50 or so owners (read campaign contributors and special interests)—feel entitled to the multibillion cash cow that Sonoma Clean Power is designed to become; and will replace any Supervisor, Water Agency manager, County Counsel or County Auditor Controller who gets in the way of this compelling opportunity.

    And, as always, the public be damned.

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  2. bear says:

    Can’t imagine why my previous comment was omitted.

    The entire SCWA water system is OUT OF WATER as of 2020. They serve cities and water districts from Windsor to North Marin. Don’t believe me, then do the research.

    The cost of scarce resources goes up.

    Thumb up 6 Thumb down 10

  3. Grapevines says:

    Tax his land, tax his wage, tax his bed in which he lays. / Tax his tractor, tax his mule, teach him taxes are the rule. / Tax his cow, tax his goat, tax his pants, tax his coat. / Tax his ties, tax his shirts, tax his work, tax his dirt. / Tax his tobacco, tax his drink, tax him if he tries to think. / Tax his booze, tax his beers, if he cries, tax his tears. / Tax his bills, tax his gas, tax his notes, tax his cash. / Tax him good and let him know, that after taxes, he has no dough. / If he hollers, tax him more; tax him until he’s good and sore. / Tax his coffin, tax his grave, tax the sod in which he lays. / Put these words upon his tomb, “Taxes drove me to my doom!” / And when he’s gone, we won’t relax, we’ll still be after the inheritance tax.

    Thumb up 12 Thumb down 2

  4. The Answer says:

    Why is it that we the water users, ration, cut back and drastically change our water using habits and still the water rates are doubled in 10 years?

    The answer is that the government is not willing to cut its costs. They wants to increase “fish flows,” grant water employees huge raises and pension increases, and update the water system.

    What have they been doing for the past 10+ years?

    All they know is how to increase taxes, they never cut taxes and fees or control costs. They are what can be called “weak as water” when it comes to cost containment.

    Thumb up 14 Thumb down 1

  5. bear says:

    Listen up!

    The SCWA water system, which serves every city from Windsor to North Marin, will be OUT OF WATER by 2020.

    Don’t believe me? Do the research.

    Thumb up 6 Thumb down 9

  6. Steveguy says:

    There is a plan to meter private home wells and make them pay. The Water Agency is just a part of a vast money-sucking conspiracy at the expense of the public.

    There should be a law against the graft and corruption that they practice.

    Thumb up 15 Thumb down 2

  7. Concerned Taxpayer says:

    Where do they think taxpayers are going to get the money to pay these continually rising taxes, far above inflation?
    Will the City Council have a backbone and stick up for taxpayers?

    Thumb up 24 Thumb down 1

  8. Joe says:

    I am predicting a yes vote on this one……

    Thumb up 18 Thumb down 0

  9. Follower says:

    Why is there even any discussion? What is there to debate?
    The people have made their position perfectly clear…

    “Yes we want our taxes and fees raised so you can spend more of our money as you see fit.”

    “Yes you did a great job as stewards of the public treasury and running our Government in your last term, here’s another”

    Did I miss something?

    Thumb up 26 Thumb down 2

  10. Steveguy says:

    Someone should audit the Water Agency. Or get the Grand Jury to check them out. Plus, why the millions and millions and millions of ‘needed expenditures’ due to cronyism, paybacks, and just outright fraud ? One ‘Agency’ forcing another ‘Agency’ to comply with rigged rules that enrich the contributors and so-called ‘ Non-Profits’. We are being fleeced by the ‘networking’ that goes into our current political process. It is a shame.

    I hope you all know that the “Plan” is for the Water Agency to take over for PG&E and have control over our energy use. There is a stated goal of even disallowing natural gas installations.

    Did you know that soon or already, it’s hardly worth to grow your own vegetables due to the water prices in Santa Rosa and Water Agency contractors ?

    By the way, there is a $100 Million Solar project that the Water Agency is behind near the Airport. But it is ” GREEN” no matter the cost. Just raise the rates.

    I see this, why can’t the PD ? Holy moly

    Thumb up 25 Thumb down 1

  11. Reality Check says:

    It looks like most of the infrastructure spending is in reality a series of fish remediation projects. Would someone please total up all this spending.

    Thumb up 17 Thumb down 1

  12. James Bennett says:

    Privatize and sell off our resource.

    Then portray a lack and shortage largely based on same.

    Raise rates.

    Sounds profitable.

    The next issue of The North Bay Independent will be all about water.

    The tyrannical definition of ‘Waterway’, ‘Watershed’, ‘Runoff’ (you won’t believe that one).

    Ultimately the UN seeks to reduce our currency to one of our consumption. To rationed, allocated and granted by the State.

    Ultimately reducing our water use to a 10 gal. a day ‘allotment’.

    Because water can be such an instrument of control, ICLEI is very preoccupied with monopolization and control of water.

    If you have any doubt, search ICLEI and water; pages and pages of results will come up.

    Thumb up 20 Thumb down 4

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