Atascadero water cost may rise

Atascadero water customers could face increased rates in 2011 as the private utility’s local board considers a rate hike Dec. 8.

Under Atascadero Mutual Water Co. staff recommendations, the water bill for an average household and business would increase by 15 percent.

For a typical family, that’s an increase to $65.90 per month from $56.80 in the summer for 22,000 gallons used; and to $28 per month from $24 in the winter for 7,000 gallons used.

For average commercial users, bills would go to $28 per month from $24 in the summer for 7,000 gallons used; and to $20 per month from $17.20 in the winter for 3,000 gallons used.

The company says it has 10,500 customer accounts that serve a population of about 30,000 people.

The rate increase is primarily needed to fund Atascadero’s portion of the Nacimiento Water Project — a 2,000-acre-foot annual share ready for users in April, according to company officials.

The 45-mile, $176 million pipeline will carry millions of gallons of drinking water from Nacimiento Lake to Paso Robles, Atascadero, Templeton, San Luis Obispo and part of Cayucos.

Water company General Manager John Neil originally intended to pay for the new water with connection fee revenue primarily generated from the sale of water meters to new development, he said, but the “sluggish economy has resulted in a dramatic decrease in connection fee revenue over the past several years.”

The utility’s connection fee revenue has fallen to $391,000 in this fiscal year from $3.7 million in fiscal year 2007, he said.

With the new water will come about $36 million of debt to Atascadero, with an additional 6.5 percent in interest over 30 years.

The annual debt payment would be about $2.4 million. Users will repay San Luis Obispo County, which sold bonds to build the pipeline. Construction wrapped up this fall, and the system is now in the testing stages.

Atascadero will use its share during the peak warmer months and shut it off when people water their lawns less in the cooler months, Neil said.

The increased rates are also to pay for expenses associated with aging facilities, ongoing operations and maintenance costs, and other everyday expenditures associated with getting water to people as costs rise and income dwindles.

Atascadero will make the lake water drinkable right away by filtering it through an approximately $1.5 million recharge basin and recovery well built last summer.

Instead of waiting to build a treatment plant, the company can use Atascadero’s geology of sand and gravel reaching 90 feet thick into the ground to filter the water naturally.

The Nacimiento Lake water would be discharged into the pond adjacent to the utility’s well field to artificially increase its groundwater as it filters through the gravel underground. Then, the utility will chlorinate it with its normal water supply and flow it out to customers.

Paso Robles, struggling to find a way to pay for its treatment plant that’s not built yet, doesn’t have the same natural screening ability because the city’s geology is primarily made up of clay, Neil said, and doesn’t have the density of natural sands and gravels that Atascadero has.

Water rates meeting Dec. 8

The Atascadero Mutual Water Co. board of directors meeting is planned for 6:30 p.m. Dec. 8 at 5005 El Camino Real.

Contact General Manager John Neil at 461-7217, Ext. 21, or jneil@amwc.us with questions on the proposed rate increase.