When directors of Cambria’s services district meet Thursday, Nov. 19, the main item on their agenda will be approving a groundwater management plan that is required for state officials to release $4.3 million in drought grant funds.
But as crucial as that plan and the grant are to the Cambria Community Services District, much of the casual district-related conversation lately has been about a plan outlining proposed increases in residential and commercial water and sewage-treatment rates.
It’s been a quick turnaround. The plan was released to the public Nov. 3. District directors approved Nov. 12 sending formal notices the next day. Those mailings explain the proposal and how people can protest the increases if they wish.
A final hearing is set for Dec. 29, and if the level of protest isn’t sufficient to stop the new rates, they’ll take effect Jan. 1, showing up on bills that customers will receive early in March.
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Since the district’s draft groundwater management plan was introduced in mid-October, staff has made numerous changes and updates, most of them based on comments from governmental officials, Cambria groups and individuals.
District General Manager Jerry Gruber said in an email interview that those modifications included adding an adaptive management plan to Appendix E; responding to letters from the California Coastal Commission and Greenspace — The Cambria Land Trust (as Appendix B); and adding updates about the district’s diversion permits, a topic of debate between the commission and district.
Among comments made Oct. 29 by commission senior environmental scientist Tom Luster was that “the final report should more thoroughly describe the CCSD’s existing water rights,” as commission staffers believe the district’s current water rights are “considerably less than the amount of water the CCSD has anticipated would be available for water production and management.”
Luster said the district’s “original water rights applications expired without being perfected, so the currently available amounts are less than half” of the district’s expected amounts reflected in the plan.
District engineer Bob Gresens said Luster’s water-rights assertion “is incorrect.” He said in his reply to Luster that the district “is aware of the need to extend its existing water right permits with the State Water Resources Control Board, and filed the appropriate petitions” with that agency in 2014.
The water board “is processing CCSD’s extension petitions,” Gresens said.
When a California agency such as the CCSD proposes to raise utility rates, it must notify customers how those increases would affect their bills while also providing explanations of how the ratepayers can lodge formal protests.
Those notices — 4,577 of them, in fact — were sent Nov. 13 to district customers, including “property owners and to the customer-of-record in cases where there is a tenant,” said Alex Handlers, the consultant who worked with the district’s ad hoc committee and staff and prepared the rate-increase proposal.
$51.50Price a water user would pay over a two-month period for roughly 50 gallons per day under new rates, up from $23.82 under the current forumla. That represents an increase of $27.68.
116 Percentage rate increase for such a customer under the proposed new formula.
Under the state’s Proposition 218, he said, “a majority protest is based on the number of parcels, not the gross number of notices mailed. That number is 3,937 parcels for water and 3,828 parcels for sewage-treatment.” The difference is because some properties still have septic systems.
Protest letters are kept “in a locked box in a locked room” until they’re tallied at the Dec. 29 hearing, Gruber said.
Stopping the increases would require official protests from 50 percent of affected customers, plus one. According to Monique Madrid, CCSD administrative services officer, it would take 1,969 protests to stop the water-rate hike and 1,915 protests to stop the sewage-treatment rate increase.
“One protest is counted per parcel,” Handlers said. So, if a property’s renter and owner both protest, or several tenants in a multifamily housing unit on one meter all protest, or if several owners of one parcel protest, each of those situations still would only be counted as one protest.
Under the new rates, some ratepayers who have been using the least water during the drought will be faced with basic fixed and quantity water charges that will more than double (not counting the fixed, quantity and operational charges for the emergency water supply project, which remain the same).
In the past, the district has included the first six units in the base rate (or four since the drought emergency was declared). Under the new rates, the district would begin charging for usage with the first unit (748 gallons), at $6.50 per unit for the first four units. Subsequent units each cost more.
According to Handler’s statistics, if rates rise as proposed, a customer who uses only four units every two months (roughly 50 gallons per day) would be charged $51.50 for basic water service each billing period.
The current bill for that amount of water is $23.82, so the increase would be $27.68, or 116 percent.
However, that customer’s sewage treatment bill would actually go down by $1.92 every billing period.