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Ratepayers Could Block San Diego Water, Wastewater Rate Changes

An engineer fills a container with recycled water at the Advanced Water Purification Facility at San Diego's North City Water Reclamation Plant, May 8, 2015.
Associated Press
An engineer fills a container with recycled water at the Advanced Water Purification Facility at San Diego's North City Water Reclamation Plant, May 8, 2015.

If you live in San Diego and pay your own water and sewer bills, you should have gotten a mailer recently from the city government. It was easy to miss, but it has important details on how much the city wants to raise its rates, and included a way residents and businesses could potentially block the proposal.

Under the proposal, San Diego businesses and residents of apartment buildings would initially pay cheaper wastewater rates, while residents of single-family homes would see their rates go up. The changes are part of an overhaul to city fees used to maintain the sewage system.

Ratepayers Could Block San Diego Water, Wastewater Rate Changes
Listen to this story by Andrew Bowen

The city is also proposing a smaller across-the-board increase to the city's water rates. Both proposals are set for a City Council vote on Sept. 21.

RELATED: Sewage, Water Rate Hikes Proposed For San Diego City

None of those changes will happen, however, if a majority of ratepayers submit written protests — a restriction imposed by the 1996 ballot measure Proposition 218. The last page of the mailer included a form you can sign and send to the City Clerk's Office objecting to the changes.

"This council doesn't deliberate, they don't talk about it after the public hearing," said Adam Jones, deputy director of finance for the San Diego Public Utilities Department. "Everything ends and the department has to go back to the drawing board and see what additional things we may do."

The last time the city changed water rates, it received about 20,000 written protests — far short of the more than 130,000 that would have constituted a majority, Jones said.

The 3% water rate increase, which would take effect in 2022, is considered a "pass-through" — a dollar-for-dollar adjustment to account for rising water fees charged by the San Diego County Water Authority. Historically, the city has purchased 85 to 90% of its water from the wholesaler.

The proposed wastewater rates were made after a more in-depth cost-of-service study found the current rates are not enough to pay for maintaining the system of pipelines, pumping stations and sewage treatment facilities. The rates have been the same for nearly a decade, Jones said, and aren't enough to maintain the department's good credit rating that allows it to borrow money more cheaply.

"We've reached the point where our financial metrics aren't where they need to be," Jones said.

The city also determined it was unfair for apartments and commercial and industrial buildings to be paying more for wastewater services than single-family homes, as is currently the case. That's why business and multi-family residential would go down in 2022 before going up in 2023, 2024 and 2025. Single-family residential customers would see increases each of those years.

Overall, the rate changes are aimed at increasing wastewater department revenue by 5% in 2022, 4% in 2023, 4% in 2024 and 3% in 2025.

VIDEO: Ratepayers Could Block San Diego Water, Wastewater Rate Changes