Over the Hill

Paso’s water hike is fair and needed

The Paso Robles City Council approved a water-rate increase Tuesday night. I live in Paso Robles, so it’ll cost me money. But I’m convinced it’s as good as we can get, and it’s necessary.

It’s necessary because we have to pay our share of the Nacimiento pipeline costs. In 2004, our City Council signed us up for 4,000 acre-feet per year of Nacimiento water. That committed us to paying our share of the pipeline costs.

It was a rare opportunity to greatly improve Paso Robles’ water security. If the council had let it slip, they would have been guilty of gross negligence. The population of the world and California is swelling and demanding water.

The rural population around Paso Robles is multiplying. Irrigated vineyards are spreading over the surrounding hills and plains. State law allows property owners to pump as much water as they want for use on their land.

We are all competing for the water in the Paso Robles groundwater basin. The Nacimiento pipeline guarantees Paso Robles 4,000 acre-feet of water per year. No one else can touch it.

But it isn’t free. Paso Robles must pay $4.2 million per year toward the pipeline’s bond payments. And in 2014, Paso Robles’ share of the operating and maintenance cost will climb to $1.3 million per year.

Also, this is lake water, so Paso Robles must build a water treatment plant that may cost $25 million. And even with this new rate increase, which starts January, the construction of the treatment plant won’t begin until 2015 and may take two years.

The pipeline is complete and carrying water, but Paso Robles can’t use any of it without the required treatment plant. We’re paying for water we can’t use. Since 2007, five proposed water-rate increases have failed because of persistent opposition.

This latest rate increase is fair. We’ll be charged only for what we use. The less we use, the less we pay. The more we use, the more we pay.

During the past 12 months, Mamie and I used an average of 13 billing units per month. A unit equals 100 cubic feet or 748 gallons.

During that time, our average monthly bill was $35.16. Under the new rate starting 2012, it would be $32.50. It would make a gradual climb to $57.20 by 2016.

But if we used 40 units per month, our monthly bill would be $100 starting 2012, and climb to $176 in 2016. And I’d find ways to save water.

Reach Phil Dirkx at phild2008@sbcglobal.net or 238-2372.