The longest yard wasn’t the LA Rams miraculous effort at Super Bowl LVI: It’s the distance necessary when a hand goes from being enthusiastically raised in favor of a secure future, paying a little more for healthy, sustainable water supplies, and greener, cleaner energy, then lowered down to a checkbook.
Three (3) projected, related rate increases are converging and shouldn’t dampen that ratepayer fervor. One was covered recently by Noah Biesiada from the Voice of OC in the February 9, 2022 edition.
Biesiada focused upon the now-being-recalibrated-rate structure regarding the emerging cleaner, potentially greener OC Power Authority (OCPA). Caveat: Forecasts, modeling, they have their vulnerabilities in every field, especially like in the OCPA’s case, when breaking new collaborative ground.
Meanwhile, under-publicized but on the docket at Metropolitan Water District of Southern California’s (MET) Finance & Insurance Committee on Monday, January 7, 2022, was a proposed biennial (2-year duration), 8% per annum rate increase that starts January 1, 2023.
There are several workshops planned and according to the list of sources from the industry that I interviewed for this article, budget approval is expected at the April MET hearing. This too is a result of the volatility, the ups and downs, feast and famine conundrum of the water supply world.
Broken down, IF your electricity is from the OCPA, IF MET is your dominant drinking water provider, and IF in addition you pay for recycled water to conserve, free up drinking water, plus pay a sewerage fee? Then energy costs will increase, directly and/or indirectly:
- Electricity for your home and/or business,
- Electricity to move (wheel) water, that is transport and deliver to consumers, and
- Electricity to treat your wastewater to regulatory compliance standards then dispose of what’s not reclaimed in an ecologically correct manner.
Water has been under-valued and taken for granted by Californians, rates relatively inexpensive, in spite of inflation and whatnot, all things considered. Unfortunately, this has created unsustainable expectations that due to drought cycles and population growth, ridiculously low historical rates cannot possibly be maintained or sustained.
Less water from our 2 major sources, up north and from the Colorado River due to our drought cycles play havoc on long term budgeting. Plus lower flows=Less hydroelectric production.
If you pay a water bill and MET is your utility’s wholesaler, whether as one bill, through your property taxes or a combination thereof, early next year, your supplier is going to be paying more: 8% more. At first glance, that might give you sticker shock, but if your provider has been prudent in their forward planning and contingency policies, it won’t be as bad as it looks.
The MET wholesale increase is ≈ double the usual 3-4% per annum increases of the past. One prudent and savvy South OC utility which I monitor anticipated 5% per annum, so the net difference (3%) won’t be as painful for their clients.
“All-inclusive costs” i.e., necessary O & M expenditures (price of doing business overhead, repair and/or remove & replace infrastructure, waste treatment, etc.), are usually in the 3-4 cents/gallon range. My online research revealed that same South OC utility I monitor closely does it all for ≈2-2.5 cents/gallon.
Translation: The typical shower uses ≈25 gallons, so obviously the price range varying between purveying utilities, the difference once multiplied by say a 4-member family, is significant over a year’s budget time. In my world, “that depends” is a commonly uttered maxim by industry professionals.
The “triple threat” is real for those signing or already signed up for the OCPA and also for those purchasing MET drinking water from its county distributor, Municipal Water District of Orange County (MWDOC). MWDOC members can and do influence indirectly, but do not dictate MET rates.
One that isn’t well understood by the public, but does eventually affect ratepayers, are: “Pass-Through Charges” (PTC). Some snidely refer to them as “Pass Along,” (literally pass the painful extra bucks like a kidney stones) but the result is the same, ratepayers end up with the tab, having no direct say-so, just local board members that they elect. Not that you voted for all, maybe only 1 or 2 of them.
Together, convened boards of groups like MET are composed of “proxy proxies.” Crazy, huh? You elected a local water board member, who in turn with others you may NOT have voted for (or elected who were in another district) selects a representative through a very esoteric and archaic system.
A PTC covers unforeseen increases in wholesale charges for imported water, groundwater management, and electrical services to support infrastructure which may be passed through to the customer as they occur. My homework reveals that such PTC are NOT subject to Prop 218 challenges as long as a utility has the right paperwork filed. Which is complicated, believe me, but your eyes are probably glazed over by now anyway, right?
Ever observed those enormous dams and turbines, those pump stations that must push billions of gallons of water, keep it moving over hill and over dale, via either Northern California or the Colorado River Aqueducts respectively? Water and wastewater (sewer) utilities must use pumps to either distribute drinking water they purchase and/or direct wastewater to treatment facilities.
Secondary and tertiary (3rd level advanced/recycled) waste treatment plants need a lot of electricity to be successful. They operate 24/7/365 and, if in addition they’re not just dumping it into the ocean outfall pipes (affluent discharges), if they’re reclaiming influent (wastewater) and compliant with irrigation standards, they are energy intensive and need a lot of grid juice.
The drought that started in 2000 is now purportedly the driest two decades since 800 A.D. Indirect and Direct Potable Reuse (IPR & DPR) wastewater facilities that complement or supplement utility drinking water portfolios will become the norm or at minimum more sought-after contingency Capital Improvement Projects by local providers.
Even when totaled, we’re looking at small percentage increases of modest existing bills, not “A Fistful of Dollars.” Living in what’s arguably the most beautiful and environmentally correct state, “For A Few Dollars More” our mutual future will be more efficient and less polluting.
Roger E. Bütow is a 50-year resident of Laguna Beach CA. He’s the Founder and Executive Director of the 24-year old NGO, Clean Water Now. His professional fields of expertise are land use & regulatory compliance consultancy plus as a retired general contractor, he offers environmental & construction advisory services. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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