City Council to consider steep increases in water rate

Modesto’s roughly 73,000 water customers should brace themselves for steep increases on their monthly bills.

The City Council is expected to hold a hearing Tuesday on raising water rates over five years. The typical single-family residence could see its monthly bill rise from $41.77 to as much as $71.31 over the five years, according to a city consultant’s report.

The rate increase would take effect Sept. 1 if approved by the council. Modesto’s other water customers – including restaurants, businesses, industry and apartments – also would see big increases. The increases apply to city water customers outside of Modesto, such as those in Del Rio and Salida.

Modesto Utilities Director Larry Parlin said he understands no one wants to pay more but added the rate increases are driven by California’s drought (which is now in its fifth year), the need to shore up the water system’s finances and to pay for infrastructure projects – such as drilling more wells and replacing aging water mains.

“You have to maintain a good water system,” he said. “You have to have pipes that don’t leak and water mains that don’t burst. ... You have to replace wells with deteriorating water quality. At the end of the day, it’s really (about) public health and safety.”

He said Modesto’s water customers have reduced their consumption by 29 percent since June 2015, when the state mandated water conservation for urban areas. The reduction is based on 2013 water use. It’s laudable that Modesto customers are saving water, but it has meant less revenue for the city’s water system. Parlin said water sales revenue was down $6 million in 2015.

Still, the size of the proposed rate increases is sobering. The consultant’s report states Modesto’s current monthly bill for a typical single-family home is the highest in Stanislaus County. The increases would make Modesto fourth highest among 16 Valley and foothills communities.

But Parlin has said Modesto, unlike many neighboring cities, relies on wells and river water for its drinking water. He has said river water is more expensive than groundwater but that having two water sources has been a boon to the city and helped it sustain groundwater levels.

And though the rate increases are for five years, the council each year would approve an annual increase. Parlin said it’s possible the council could approve an increase that is less than authorized, depending on such factors as the water supply and water system’s finances.

Modesto is required to follow Proposition 218, the state law that local governments must follow to raise water rates. So Modesto was required to send notices to property owners and ratepayers about the proposed rate increases. Proposition 218 also lets those affected by the increases to file protests with the city. If a majority protests, then a local government cannot raise rates.

Parlin said the city had received about 400 protests as of Monday. Protests also will be accepted at the council’s public hearing Tuesday. The notices explain how to file a protest. The council will meet at 5:30 p.m. in the basement chambers of Tenth Street Place, 1010 10th St.

Kevin Valine: 209-578-2316