The Cambrian

Foes of Cambria’s proposed water rate increase voice concerns

As customers of Cambria’s services district consider notices they received in the mail recently, documents that explained proposed increases in their rates for water and sewage-treatment, some have already decided they don’t like the idea.

The notices detail the Cambria Community Services District’s proposed rate hikes and outline how people who object to them can lodge formal protests. The documents were mailed to district customers on Nov. 13.

Anyone who didn’t receive one can get one at the district office, 1316 Tamsen Drive, Suite 201, between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., Mondays through Thursdays (the office will be closed on Thanksgiving).

The notice also is included online on pages 163-166 of the Board of Director’s agenda packet for a special Nov. 12 meeting, at http://bit.ly/1NMfb5v.

Why raise rates?

The district says it needs the rate hikes because the water and wastewater-treatment departments are supposed to be self supporting and aren’t. In other words, the costs to provide the services are supposed to be covered primarily by the bills people pay to get those services.

But with local, county and state water-use restrictions in force because of devastating drought conditions, super-conserving Cambrians have made news statewide by reducing their use up to 43 percent when compared to what they were using in fiscal year 2013-14, which the state is using as the water-use benchmark.

That conservation success also meant less money was coming into district coffers to cover the cost of the water the customers are using.

The EWS … err … ASWTP

CCSD has been weathering a squeaky-tight budget situation as it waits for the state to pay the district a $4.3 million drought-related grant toward an already-built-and-operating plant that treats brackish water and returns it to the aquifer to recharge the well field and a habitat-dense lagoon.

The plant was built under an emergency permit from the county because of the drought threat to the town’s water supply. The district is in the midst of seeking a full permit that would allow the plant to operate permanently.

District General Manager Jerry Gruber said at the Board of Directors’ Nov. 19 meeting that he expects to get from a consultant sometime in January a draft version of the next step toward that permit, a full study of the plant’s potential environmental impacts and how the district should mitigate those impacts.

The plant has been identified for a couple of years as the district’s “emergency water-supply project” or the acronym of EWS. Now, however, to better describe the hoped-for future process — especially for officials with their hands on the state’s grant program purse strings — district officials and advisers have renamed the plant as the “advanced sustainable water treatment plant” or ASWTP.

District customers also pay extra in a water base charge, water use charge and facility operating charge for the ASWTP.

Gruber said in an emailed response that, if the “new rates are adopted as proposed … those adopted water rates will not be used for the ASWTP. The same accounting practices and procedures that are being utilized will continue to ensure there will not be any commingling of funds” between regular water rate funds and those collected specifically for the plant.

Not happy

Some people have taken to social media to state their stance opposing the new rate proposal. For instance, Cambria Habitat Preservation posted a form on Facebook to make it easier for others to lodge formal protests about the rate-hike proposal.

As one Facebook poster wrote of the situation that prompted the rate-increase proposal, “CCSD raises water rates, tells people to conserve. People conserve … really well. CCSD raises rates again ’cause they aren’t making any money. This is like a snake swallowing its own tail.”

The Cambrian emailed district officials, including counsel Tim Carmel, to ask if the prepared form, properly filled out, would be considered a legal protest, but no answer was received by the paper’s deadline (earlier in the week than usual because of the Thanksgiving holiday).

Water

Meanwhile, a couple of factors have led to somewhat higher water use in the district whose customers are known statewide as super conservers.

First, in August, the Board of Directors loosened slightly the restrictions on outdoor watering, which had been banned since Jan. 30, 2014.

Now, customers whose addresses end in even numbers can water on Tuesdays before 9 a.m. or after 6 p.m., and those whose addresses end in odd numbers can water on Thursdays during the same hours. Out-of-town owners can water on one weekend day during the same time periods.

Gruber said he doesn’t think the district is in danger of exceeding the governor’s mandate to reduce water use by 25 percent, compared to the 2013-14 levels in each community.

“I believe it is safe to say that, with Cambrians (permanent and part-time) and visitors being so water conscious and conservation oriented, I do not believe we will reach that point.”

The second factor in the uptick in the community’s water use could be because the ASWTP went online in September, reducing the likelihood that the community would run out of water if the drought continued.

Gruber said, “Sales for September and October 2015 were 32,633 CCF, which is 13 percent higher than last year (28,764 CCF) … and 64 percent of the baseline sales in fiscal year 2013-14.

“Sales for July/August 2015 were 33,441 CCF, which were 6 percent higher than last year (31,592 CCF), and equals 54 percent of the baseline sales.”

A CCF represents “centum (100) cubic feet” or one billing unit, which (in household language) equals 748 gallons.

Higher water sales means more income for the district, although apparently still not enough to compensate for the imbalance between the cost to operate the water and wastewater departments and the amount of money the district receives to pay for those services.

So, for the next 4 1/2 weeks consumers will continue to ponder the district’s proposed rate increases. If any of them decide to protest, they must do so before a public hearing set for Dec. 29.

That’s when district directors will learn if a protest was successful — it would require protests from 50 percent plus one of the 3,937 water customers and 3,828 sewage-treatment customers (1,969 and 1,915, respectively). If the level of protest is insufficient to stop the rate increases, the board is expected to approve them. The new rate structure would go into effect Jan. 1 and show up on customers’ bills in March.

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