TURLOCK — The City Council voted 3-2 on Tuesday night to nearly double water rates over five years, despite concerns about the effect on low-income people and conservation efforts.
The average residential bill will go from $24.05 per month to $47.10 by 2019, although use is much greater in summer than winter. The increases, which also affect business customers, need a final vote April 8.
About 60 people turned out for the meeting, most of them opposed to the increases.
“It all adds up – $5 there, $5 there, $5 there,” resident Manuel Drumonde told the council.
Mayor John Lazar and Councilmen Forrest White and Steven Nascimento voted for the increases. Council members Amy Bublak and Bill DeHart dissented, although DeHart said he mainly was concerned about the lack of information about the rates.
The money will go to operation and improvement of the city water system, supplied by wells that could be at risk in places from overpumping and contaminants.
“I just think we’re at the point where we need to step up and make the improvements,” White said.
The city is working with the Turlock Irrigation District on a possible treatment plant that would provide Tuolumne River water to Turlock, Ceres and south Modesto, reducing their use of groundwater. That project could require a separate set of rate increases in the future.
Under state law, the council could not have approved Tuesday’s increases if a majority of the 17,541 affected property owners filed protests at or before the meeting. Only 605 protests were received; people who supported the proposal did not have to do anything.
Some critics said the new rate structure lacks a means for charging extra to heavy water users – an especially useful option in a time of drought. Others complained that the city sought more money in part because conservation efforts to date have succeeded and bill payments have dropped.
“You can’t ask people to use less and pay more and not expect some kind of reaction,” DeHart said.
Resident Roger Schmidt suggested a separate, cheaper system for landscaping water. “We’re only thinking about drinking water, when 80 percent of the water used goes on the lawns and shrubbery,” he said, adding that he saw such a system in place in Idaho.
A city staff report in December said Turlock’s current rates are far less than those of Modesto, Ceres and Merced.
Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2385.