Paso Robles water plan is just not working
January 31, 2012
OPINION By KAREN REED
I was shocked when not much was said about the huge increases in water rates needed to fund the water system projects discussed at the Nov. 15 Paso Robles City Council meeting. After years of hard work to come to an agreement on rates to pay for Nacimiento water, it seems the City was way off on what new development would be paying.
The new plan for water department improvements shows projected water rates increasing every year for the next 15 years. Rates shown increase from $1.32 to $8.70 per unit, a 650 percent increase.
But don’t worry; these will be small increases, until, until we get to $8.70. You may not even notice.
But you will pay and pay.
The City explained “water sales have dropped … since 2007.” However, this is a drop in new development connection charges, not consumption from existing customers. Income from new development is now projected to be about half of previous estimates.
Basically, with little “new development” to pay 50 percent, existing customers are left paying millions of dollars more.
All new borrowing was cut from the plan when we chose the “pay as you go plan”, but these new plans have $42 million in debt added. Payments on the new financing are $3 million per year on top of $4 million for the pipeline bond.
The proposed changes have $5 million more per year cost than our current plan. Looks like we already have run-away costs in this poorly thought-out plan, and construction hasn’t even started.
This is an example of the concern over giving our City Council a “blank check.” The median water bills will now be $80 more than current bills. Check your water bill, when you use more than 20 units, your bill could easily be over $200 per month.
Is there ever a time when the Council will say, “This is just not working?”
A recent state law requires that any rate increase adopted can include increases for up to 5 years, not longer. Now, our City Council did not decide to adopt the 15 years of rate increases shown on the new plan presented Nov. 15th.
I guess the Council has just accepted the need for further rate increases after the 5 years adopted April 2011. The Council “authorized contract negotiation to begin” for the plan that requires rate increases for 15 years or more. Does that sound legal to you? If they sign contracts with no provision in place to pay for the work, our Council will be putting Paso Robles into a situation similar to the Los Osos sewer mess.
When Nacimiento water was first proposed, there were several other options on the table. In the years since, even more options have been proposed yet our Council has only pursued this one plan.
City Manager, Jim App has explained, even without Nacimiento water, we produce 10 million gallons of water per day (MGD). In the winter, we use only three MGD. In the hottest part of the summer we use 12 MGD, before we began conservation efforts and conserved 20 percent of our summer usage.
With such a small chance of shortage surely we could find a more affordable alternative. In the short run, we could work with Atascadero and utilize their percolation pond instead of building a water treatment plant until we have enough new development to pay their share.
We could make an agreement with the Ground Water Basin Stakeholders in which Paso would add our 4,000 acre feet per year (AFY) to support the ground water basin in exchange for contractual rights to draw 4,000 AFY from the basin.
We could offer incentives to some of our vineyard neighbors to bury storage tanks on their property to store the extra water produced in early summer to get us through the hottest part of the summer.
For the long run, we could split the cost of a water treatment plant with Atascadero that would serve both cities.
There are many, more affordable alternatives, yet our City Council insists on pursuing this unaffordable, unmanageable plan at the expense of its citizens.
It is time to elect different City Council members that will listen to their constituents and follow the laws that protect its citizens, instead of blindly following expensive recommendations from self-serving consultants and city employees with grandiose plans.
It is time that the City of Paso Robles was governed for the benefit of the citizens instead of for the growth of City coffers.
Karen Reed is a long time Paso Resident, employed by State of California and married with one grown child.