City may raise water rates
City Public Works Director Craig Platt gave a presentation to the council, outlining the growing concern over the city’s aging water infrastructure. He told the council that if steps weren’t taken address the water system soon, it could end up costing the city untold amounts of money.
Platt proposed to solve the problem by increasing the city’s minimum base rate of $18.20 to $23.65. Platt explained this was the increase for the people using the least amount of water. He said he designed the pay scale to work so people within the city using the most water would pay proportionally larger amounts than people on fixed incomes or low-water users.
“We are requesting the water rates be increased as proposed for the 2008-2009 budget year,” Platt said in his presentation. “In order to give the department the ability to begin building cash reserves to start the necessary replacement of our aging water meters, mains, and service lines to meet current and future needs.
Platt told the council at a budget workshop on Tuesday, April 22, that it would cost more than $40 million to completely replace and upgrade the water system. He said some of the water mains date back to the 1920’s, while some of the water meters date back to the 1950’s and are in dire need of repair. He said at the workshop, the only feasible way to fix the system would be to put it together piecemeal as the funding becomes available. The rate increase would allow the public works department to start establishing a revenue base, which would allow for a long-term replacement plan.
Among some of the costs associated with the first year of the maintenance and replacement of the system would include the public works department’s meter reading equipment.
Platt’s report said the hand-held meter readers, which are about 15 years old, are a time-sensitive issue because the equipment’s manufacturer has refused to continue repairing them. Platt estimated the new equipment would cost roughly $20,000 for a pair of meter readers, including the cost of training and the included software to be implemented into the finance department’s billing cycle.
The new devices will also be compatible with a drive-by metering system the department is working on, which Platt said would be helpful controlling future costs to the system.
He said it would cost the city more than $290,000 just to replace meters more than 20 years old. He said the average lifespan of a water meter is about 17 1/2 years. Platt said 65 percent, or about 2,400 water meters in the city are more than 20 years old.
Platt said the two best indicators for a water system’s health status would be the total number of mainline leaks and the overall amount of lost water. Platt said water main leaks increased from 41 in 2004 to 60 in 2005. The number of leaks decreased to 48 in 2006, and went up slightly to 51 total leaks in 2007.
Platt attributed the decrease to a change in the water flow through the distribution system from the activation of newly installed pressure controls.
Platt also explained in his report what “lost” water was and how it showed the system’s overall status.
“Lost water is the difference between the amount of water produced and put into the distribution system and the amount of water metered at service connections,” Platt said.
Put into context, Platt said the total water lost was 375-acre feet in 2004, 89 in 2005, 100 in 2006 and 51 in 2007. An acre-foot equates to 43,851 gallons. That’s an equivalent of 2.2 million gallons of water lost last year, and 16.4 million gallons lost in 2004.
Platt said the city currently has more than 50 miles of main line pipe, not all of which needs to be replaced. He said after replacing the meters in the first year of his plan, he will focus on replacing pipes.
Councilmember Kurt Bonham said he wanted it made very clear that all the money that would come from the rate increase would be put into a restricted fund, meaning the money could only be spent on the improvement of the water system.
Susanville Mayor Lino Callegari said he wanted the people to know how lucky they were to have a plan in place that would allow for them to continue receiving the fresh water they currently enjoy. Aside from large city-run wells, much of the city’s water comes from natural springs owned by the city.
“The people need to know that it’s a good thing the city owns its own water supply,” Callegari said. “This allows us to control our own destiny. They also need to know exactly what this increase is going to be designed to do, and that’s to ensure they continue to receive the quality water they have come to expect.”
The next step for the council will be to schedule a public hearing for people to voice their concerns over the proposed increase. Bonham said that information will posted to the media very soon.
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