News

Water rates climb despite lower usage

Palo Alto, neighbors puzzled by plummeting water usage across Bay Area

Water usage may be plummeting in the Palo Alto and other cities that draw their supply from the Hetch Hetchy system, but water bills are flowing in the opposite direction.

The drop in water usage may please conservationists, but it creates a difficult dilemma for city officials across the region, said Councilman Larry Klein, who represents Palo Alto on the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency. The agency, which comprises 26 cities and towns, buys its water from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which gets most of its supply from the Hetch Hetchy.

Klein said water usage in the SFPUC system dropped from about 175 million gallons per day in 2006 to about 140 million gallons per day in the current year -- the lowest level since 1992. As a result, water agencies that were previously concerned about meeting the area's water demand are now worried about how to keep the water system financially sustainable. The plummeting water usage, Klein said, is a "great mystery" to water officials across the region.

"It's not clear at all if this is due to a recession, to various conservation measures or to anything else you want to name," Klein said. "There's no unanimity for why this very significant reduction has taken place."

Lower usage has not, however, resulted in lower water bills. The SFPUC is in the midst of a $4.6 billion effort to upgrade the aged reservoirs and pumping stations in the Hetch Hetchy system. The effort has prompted the commission to increase the wholesale price of water by about 37 percent. In Palo Alto, this will likely result in a 12.5 percent increase to the average water bill.

The council on Monday briefly discussed the proposed water increase, which is due to take effect in July, and will likely approve it next week as part of its approval of the 2012 budget. While dozens of customers have written letters protesting the rate increase, the council limited its discussion to a few technical questions about staff's methodology.

Palo Alto already has some of the highest water bills on the Peninsula. Its average bill of $72 is 16 percent higher than the average bill in Redwood City, 33 percent higher than Mountain View's and 47 percent higher Santa Clara's. Only Menlo Park boasts higher water bills, with the average bill at $73.

The proposed increase would add about $8.23 to the average water bill in Palo Alto, bringing it from about $72.01 to $80.24. The smallest residential customers would see their bills go up by about $3, while the largest would see an increase of about $27.

The increase would add $3.4 million in revenues to the Utilities Department's Water Fund and help close a projected shortfall of $6.2 million. The balance would come from reserves.

Staff is also projecting rate increases of 17 percent, 16 percent and 8 percent in fiscal years 2013, 2014 and 2015, respectively.

Palo Alto's water customers aren't the only ones who could soon be hit with higher water rates. Klein noted that San Francisco plans to raise rates by 15 percent every year for the next six years.

The council also discussed City Manager James Keene's proposed budget, which would keep all existing services intact and assume $4.3 million in concessions from the city's police and firefighter unions.

Keene noted in his presentation that the council had already trimmed about $14 million in annual expenditures from the city budget over the past two years and had trimmed staff by about 10 percent. Given the recent cuts, he has proposed to close this year's relatively modest gap through public-safety concessions.

"We've got to make structural changes and we really need to be able to distribute those equitably in the organization for the welfare of the city," Keene said.

The council is scheduled to vote on the budget on June 20.

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by Dry-As-A-Bone
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 14, 2011 at 7:07 am

> "It's not clear at all if this is due to a recession, to
> various conservation measures or to anything else you want
> to name," Klein said.

And at the same time, the Utility is spending about $500,000 to an outfit to generate some useless, social engineering, statistics about water use among neighbors. Rather than blowing that kind of money on “nanny-state” bullying, wouldn’t it be better to have spent the money analyzing the use patterns of customers so that people like Larry Klein would be able to say with some assurance where the water demand has gone?

Klein is about as clueless as they come. His being “termed out” (again) can’t come fast enough!


Like this comment
Posted by High handedness
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 14, 2011 at 8:14 am

Palo Alto Suckers!


Like this comment
Posted by eric
a resident of Mountain View
on Jun 14, 2011 at 9:32 am

Paying the most for the WORST TASTING water in the area, no less


Like this comment
Posted by Loves Hetch Hetchy
a resident of Ventura
on Jun 14, 2011 at 10:08 am

Lower usage does lower your bill.

Our average monthly water bill is $30 for 6 CCF for a family of 4 with a yard and vegetable garden.

The 12% rate increase will add about $4/month to our bill. Not a bank breaking amount for such an important resource.

Palo Alto's water is 100% Hetch Hetchy. Mountain View mixes water from Hetch Hetchy with water from the Delta and local reservoirs. You can taste the difference.

If you want cheap water, move to the central valley!



Like this comment
Posted by Kate
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 14, 2011 at 10:10 am

And now spending millions on an Office of Emergency Services. This should be a regional effort - not an isolated one. PA should partner with Mt. View, Menlo Park Portola Valley, Stanford, and Woodside - maybe Los Altos for Emergency Service planning. The hospital IS in Palo Alto, but Stanford owns it. This is 'empire building' again just like the Green Czar. WHAT ARE THEY THINKING???!!!


Like this comment
Posted by Pure Hetch Hetchy - NO MORE
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 14, 2011 at 10:35 am

Palo Alto Water in NOT 100% Hetch Hetchy.

Palo Alto now mixes ground water and Hetch Hetchy water. Are you surprised they are giving out hard cash to remove lawns!!

Lawns are a source of neuro-transmitter blocking chemicals - as in herbisides and pestisides.


Like this comment
Posted by TimH
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 14, 2011 at 10:48 am

The classic energy company conundrum: Constantly messaging to drive your usage DOWN, but then must RAISE unit costs to compensate for revenue shortfall. The model must change. Palo Alto Utilities actually once REFUNDED money at fiscal year end to its consumers for effective usage to cost. Who's at the wheel now?


Like this comment
Posted by David Pepperdine
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 14, 2011 at 1:29 pm

It's all about money. Prop 13 limits the city's ability to increase its revenues. But the folks at City Hall need the extra cash to hike pay, dole out benefits and generous retirement packages (like the one that Frank Benest got for no particular reason). The solution is to bring the dollars in through Utilities. Utilities are not limited by Prop 13 in what they can charge. So City of Palo Alto Utilities (CPAU) is the city's golden goose. An make no mistake, CPAU is a terrible organization. They have terrible customer service. Remember the story where utilities employees were using CPAU trucks to do private work? During working hours? And all they got was a slap on the wrist?

Also, don't fall for the story that some of the money is coming out of reserves. Where do you think the reserves come from? Iceland? They'll just hike the rates again to rebuild the reserves.

Oh, and a note to Loves Hetch Hetchy:
We want less expensive water here. If you want to live in a place where people don't care what they pay for water, move to the Brazilian rainforest!


Like this comment
Posted by Give us a break
a resident of Monroe Park
on Jun 14, 2011 at 2:31 pm

As I have said before, it doesn't matter how much you conserve, you will just be paying more and more, and the reasons for the price increases get flimsier and flimsier over time. "Because we can get away with it" seems to be what is operating here. And, for that person with a small lot and a family of four, great! Glad you aren't paying much. I have a third of an acre lot, and watering my yard and garden MINIMALLY in the summer costs 200 - 300 bucks a month for water right now. Can't wait to see what it's going to be in a few years.


Like this comment
Posted by janie
a resident of Ventura
on Jun 14, 2011 at 4:33 pm

I live in the ventura area,two adults no garden no lawn we pay a hell of a lot more than thirty dollars a month.


Like this comment
Posted by Funny logic
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 14, 2011 at 4:48 pm

Pat Burt had a businessman's justification, or PR. If you use less, your bill will go down even if the rates go up. So you shouldn't care if the rates go up. He's good at making up his own logic,


Like this comment
Posted by For water, but against hidden PA taxes
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 14, 2011 at 6:08 pm

Well, if the water delivery system needs improvements, (and I am ready to believe it, all of our infrastructure is in terrible shape in this state) I am willing to pay for it in my water rates. What irritates me, however, is that a (large ?) chunk of our utility rates is in fact taxes to subsidize Palo Alto operations that have nothing to do with utilities. In my mind, this is the real scandal, the non utility related taxes hidden in our utility rates.


Like this comment
Posted by Oxymoron
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 14, 2011 at 8:30 pm

This gets first prize in the oxymoron contest!!! The less you use, the more you pay. Does this make sense? And what about those utility taxes? Did we vote for them? Will they ever sunset? Maybe it's time to recall the Council.


Like this comment
Posted by jardins
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 14, 2011 at 11:37 pm

Why are the "authorities" puzzled by lower water usage, for goodness sake? Water's expensive AND we've been asked to conserve!

Why is common sense so utterly lacking in the public domain?


Like this comment
Posted by Give us a break
a resident of Monroe Park
on Jun 15, 2011 at 7:58 am

They aren't puzzled, jardins. If they admitted that we are going to be charged more for less openly (no matter what the circumstances), then the jig would be up. Thus, "we just don't understand why, in a major recession and after an extremely wet winter, along with our constant exhortations for everyone to conserve, water use is down." They think we are stupid. And perhaps we are, as many of us keep voting for them.


Like this comment
Posted by SteveU
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 15, 2011 at 9:35 am

SteveU is a registered user.

Doh!
They drove out all the big electronics manufacturers that used lots of water in their processes.
They drove off Supermarkets (produce washing), Hotels with large kitchens and pools and covered the premises with Condos wit postage stamp sized gardens.
How many car wash stations are left in Palo Alto?


Like this comment
Posted by Dry-As-A-Bone
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 15, 2011 at 10:17 am

> This gets first prize in the oxymoron contest!!!
> The less you use, the more you pay. Does this make sense?

Yes. It is how "fixed-cost" systems work.

For example: cost = 1/N .. the smaller N gets, the larger "cost" gets.

> And what about those utility taxes?
> Did we vote for them?

Yes--back in 1988.

> Will they ever sunset?

No--They were voted for "in perpetuity".

> Maybe it's time to recall the Council.

Maybe. The last Council recall was in 1967. The current council is pretty dysfunctional. The problem is, who will replace them?



Like this comment
Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 15, 2011 at 11:11 am

> The plummeting water usage, Klein said, is a "great mystery" to
> water officials across the region.

> "It's not clear at all if this is due to a recession, to various conservation
> measures or to anything else you want to name," Klein said. "There's
> no unanimity for why this very significant reduction has taken place."

Well don't they think they better figure out why we have a lull in water use, and if it is something that is permanent or not?

It could be people are using less water because economic activity is down and therefore water use as well.

The big question is are all these negative feedback loops going to kill off or make impossible any recovery? The minute the economy starts to pick up, bang - up go gas prices, and it is pretty much the same for everything else. That means are are going to hit a brick wall every time we seem to be making headway.


Like this comment
Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 15, 2011 at 11:21 am

Explain to me why Palo Alto pays more for these things ... do we get better quality or better service or do we just have more bloodsucking leaches who can take our money and so they do?

Why is there no tie to performance in our government or our industry anymore


Like this comment
Posted by Debbie
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 15, 2011 at 11:46 am

I truly feel that the City Council should be recalled. They have no clue of what it takes to run a city efficiently. They all made promises in their expensive campaigns. I have not seen any of their promises come forth. I am tired of rates going up when we all have been doing better in conserving. Time for a change.


Like this comment
Posted by Mark
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Jun 15, 2011 at 8:26 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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