City considers water rate increase
The Sonoma City Council will consider a new rate structure at Monday night’s meeting, with a strong likelihood that rates will go up 5 percent a year for the next five years.
The rate increases follow an in-depth “Water Supply and Water Rate and Connection Study,” prepared by veteran water consultant Jon Olaf Nelson in 2010.
The rate increases were predicated on several projected cost increases, including a 29 percent rate increase from the Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA), that has been “basically absorbed” by the city’s Public Works Department, said public works director Melinka Bates. “We’re really trying to be sensitive to economic issues,” Bates said, despite the rate increase. But she warned that rates may have to be raised further in the future.
Bates pointed out that Sonoma is proposing some of the lowest rate increases among SCWA customers. Rates for the North Marin Water Agency were raised 11 percent a year for three years in 2011; Windsor raised its rates by 9 percent; while the City of Sebastopol, although not a SCWA customer, approved a four-year increase of 32 percent a year.
Bates said her house uses between 8,000 and 9,000 gallons of water during each two-month billing period and the rate increase will amount to about $32 for her house. “That’s not so bad, especially when people are paying $150 for cable. And water is really important. It’s precious.”
The SCWA provides water from impoundments on the Russian River and its Dry Creek tributary to serve some 600,000 people in Sonoma and Marin counties. While water stored behind Warm Springs Dam at Lake Sonoma, and Coyote Dam at Lake Mendocino is more than adequate for current demand, not all of it is available for human use.
A federally mandated biological opinion imposing flow restrictions to protect endangered steelhead trout and coho salmon, has limited the amount of water that can be taken from the Russian River during critical flow periods. In addition, there is a need for more storage capacity in the Sonoma Valley. Planning is proceeding for construction of another well, and the continuation of a replacement and renovation project for the aqueduct bringing Russian River water to the Valley will engender further expense.
The water rate equation is further compounded by the fact that SCWA cannot provide a reliable, long-term water rate projection until the flow regime to protect salmonid species is resolved. That will take at least another six years and no one can predict at this point what the outcome will be.
City rules dictate that if a simple majority of the city’s water customers file a signed, written protest, the rate increase will be rejected. As of Thursday, said Bates, about 150 letters of objection had been received by her department. Citizens have until the public hearing during Monday’s City Council meeting to file a letter of protest.
The City Council will meet at 6 p.m. in the Community Meeting Room at 177 First St. W. The public is invited to attend.