Drought Resulting in Water Rate Hikes Across CA

Faced with a drought that won’t quit, officials have taken new steps to add to Californians’ discomfort — a fresh round of rate hikes. Regulators in the San Francisco Bay Area have begun the march toward charging significantly more for water, pleading that limited rainfall this spring has left them with no choice.

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As CBS San Francisco observed, the plans taking shape within three of the state’s largest water agencies reflect a cost crunch impacting the Santa Clara Valley Water District and the San Francisco and East Bay Municipal Utilities District.

The agencies have found themselves between a rock and a hard place this year, reluctant to put the squeeze on already restive residents, but strapped with mounting costs set to increase even further.

As Beau Goldie, CEO of the Santa Clara Valley Water District, bluntly told the San Jose Mercury News, “We don’t want to raise water rates.” But Goldie and other district chiefs have targeted hikes of 30 percent or more because water conservation has slashed sales. As the Mercury News reported:

“Because they have sold less water, the agencies have lost tens millions of dollars in revenues. They also have had to spend more money on drought-related expenses such as buying extra water from outside the Bay Area to help meet demand, expanding public relations budgets to ask the public to use less water amid shortages, and offering rebates to homeowners who replace lawns with drought-tolerant plants or old, leaky appliances with water-efficient ones.”

Groundwater bank

Santa Clara Valley has been reduced to shelling out millions of dollars to pump in water from a so-called “groundwater bank” located in Kern County. EBMUD, falling back on the same strategy, has put its hopes in using its share of limited drought relief funds to bankroll imports of its own, spokeswoman Abby Figueroa told KTVU Fox Channel 2 News. “We will have to continue asking our customers to cut back their usage,” she added. “How much is still being determined.”

According to KTVU, EBMUD saw customers conserve last year at a rate 13 percent higher than two years ago. But this year, residents seemed close to maxing out their ability to cut back. So far, the savings rate has dropped to just 4 percent.

Still, the size of the dropoff had EMMUD contemplating an increase in its current voluntary conservation rate to 15 percent, ABC 7 reported. Voluntary conservation could even be replaced with mandatory conservation.

Spreading confusion

At the same time as the utilities have sorted through unattractive options, water management outside the San Francisco Bay has also been hit with confusion and frustration. Because of the complexity created by the Golden State’s separate state and federal water programs, Kern County will receive more water than communities and farms on the Eastern and Western sides of the San Joaquin Valley.

As the Fresno Bee reported, while the State Water Project has supplied Kern, the federal government’s Central Valley Project has kept water flowing to those in the East and West of the Valley — that is, when there is water.

Though similar in size and infrastructure, the federal and state projects’ differences have created “a complex and uncomfortable flashpoint in the Valley,” according to the Bee. It added:

“For one thing, the smaller state project has a somewhat lighter burden, because it does not have to provide more than 300,000 acre-feet of water for wildlife refuges as the CVP does.

“The subtle difference is a big deal in a drought, when there is so little water to go around. Other below-the-radar differences, such as water-delivery pecking order dating to the 1800s, are magnified in a drought. Those with historic rights get their water first.”

With challenges radiating outward from San Francisco Bay into the Central Valley, utilities chiefs along the Central Coast and in Southern California soon could have reason to fret.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com


  1. I lived in the Bay area in the mid/late 1970’s. There was a major drought then as well, I remember the “if it’s yellow, let it mellow” slogan. Just like in the story, water rates got raised significantly because the people responded and significantly cut usage to the point that the water districts weren’t bringing in enough money to support their operations. The rate increases were supposed to be “temporary” but were never lowered when the drought was over.

  2. One thing I can not understand is why are towns/cities still building so many new houses in an area that is so short on water. Isn’t that just speeding up the clock on using all the water we have?

    • They are doing the same in the city I live in also, high density housing that will increase water demand.

      Our city is listed as “Agenda 21” city, enough said.

      • High density probably won’t increase water usage in fact with high density there won’t be as much lawns to water.
        On the other hand we in Northern California grow Rice in an Area that has no Monsoon rains instead we hope for snow in the mountains to release our problems during the summer droughts.

  3. notosharia says

    They raise the rates —but do nothing about using the money for the purpose of getting more water. Some other agency or people take off with the funds? We never hear exactly what the purpose of higher rates will get us (the rate payers) -just what is necessary?? Not only are Woodland and Davis linked into the same water pipes to the Sac. River but Sacramento can cut it off anytime it wants- was that good thinking? No but the persons who put in that pipe will get the pay off-right? The “Leaders” have had plenty of time to get the water situation understood-but they have not focused on this important feature. Does anyone feel that they have the best interest of their public in mind?

  4. Perhaps they need to resort to tried and proven methods of balancing the books:
    Reducing outlays to the level of income, since invariably, when you raise the price of your product, you sell even less of it than before, further reducing revenues.
    Only in government are consumers punished for responding to requests to reduce demand and then getting a price increase for the troubles.

  5. Donald J. says

    Let’s see if I understand this? In a government created recession/depression businesses cut back, let management, workers go, no new expansion projects etc. When a government entity or utility has a similar situation they raise rates/taxes to keep themselves from having to do the obvious. Hmmmm…

  6. stainless says

    So, raising water cost will somehow get us more water? I think not. Why are politicians willing to spend billions on a train we do not need? It goes nowhere! Why not spend it on Desalinization of ocean water? Something we do need. The largest ocean on our planet is right there on the coastline! Why is this not our goal? Drought would become a non issue. Or is this just about taking more money out of the citizens pockets? And wasting it on more stupid projects? Water grows food. The train does nothing!

    • You can’t expect these new era “progressive democrats” to do something logical, like drop the “train” to nowhere and find another water source. That is out of the question. Also,if the democrats were to start thinking logically, they would have to remove Obama from the presidency.

  7. The state of California has neglected infrastructure since 1979 when the last major reservoir was built (New Melones Reservoir in Calaveras County). Since then, California’s population has increased by 15 million people. By the way, ‘California has given out legal rights to five times as much water as rain and snow produce in average years.’ (California drought: Why doesn’t California build big dams any more? – Mercury News, August 31, 2014.) Environmental laws will make it virtually impossible to build any new reservoirs despite the $7.5 billion water bond 67% of voters approved last November. As of today, there are no plans to build any. The sky can open up today and rain for a whole year – we have limited storage capacity.

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