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Water Rates May Rise And Fall

 

Water concerns might soak some residents after two measures – one from the City of Santa Clarita and another from the CountyLos Angeles – go into effect.

It’s easy to tell them apart on the surface: the city’s measure deals with water that comes out of the sky and the county’s deals with water that comes out of your house or business.

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The City of Santa Clarita recently sent out notices regarding an updated method of calculating the annual Stormwater Pollution Prevention Fee.

“It’s based on land use and parcel size and the way we calculate runoff,” explained Travis Lange, of the City’s Environmental Services department. “We’re using the latest county Public Works hydrology manual and how the land around your property is being used.”

Most single family parcels have a fixed rate of open space to hardscape, or concrete that doesn’t absorb ground water, causing it to run off into storm drains.

The basic rate used in 2008 was $24 per equivalent residential unit; the proposed fee is $21.50.

“The majority of people will see a reduction in their annual charge,” Lange said.

Industrial areas will pay a higher fee, because their amount of “impervious” area – concrete, etc. – is larger and water has no place to go but into the storm drain. For example, a community recreation center averages 90 percent impervious surface, while a golf course averages three percent.

For single family dwellings, percentages are averaged by the acreage of the parcel – those under a half-acre, those between a half and full acre and those one acre and larger are calculated using a sliding formula. Multi-family parcels are traditionally high in hardscape, which means a higher assessment.

Before this fee can go into effect, there must be a public hearing, which has been scheduled at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, May 26 in the City Council chambers at City Hall.

After that hearing, if there is not a majority objection, the City Council may order an election, where one ballot would be provided for each parcel subject to the proposed fee. If approved, the revised fee would be collected on the annual County Property Tax bill starting in fiscal 2010-2011.

The county’s proposal will definitely cost taxpayers more, with an increase over the next three fiscal years.

Dave Bruns, Assistant Department Head for Financial Planning for the Los Angeles County Sanitation District, explains.

We, as an agency, are responsible for operating major trunk sewers and treatment plants,” he said. “Ultimately, rate increases are required because we have to upgrade treatment at our facilities.”

The proposed increases will finance two new treatment plants.

“After the water comes from the sewer and goes into our treatment plants, it goes into the Santa Clara River, which is regulated by the Regional Water Quality Control Board. They have imposed objectives to the river as it relates to chloride, or salt, in the treated water. Those objectives are primarily to protect downstream agricultural concerns and endangered species.

“We’ve gone back and forth with the state as to what was the best way to approach the standards they’ve imposed,” he continued. “To meet their standards, we would have had to build a project that would have cost $500 million. We thought that was a bit excessive.:

Bruns said that the agencies negotiated with water purveyors and came up with a project that would come in at half the cost.

“It’s still expensive, but at $250 million, is significantly less than the original project.”

The new proposal involves reverse osmosis and microfiltration to remove chlorides before the water is transported to the agricultural interests. It also provides for the disposal of the salt removed from the water.

“One of the problems when you remove the salt, it doesn’t just vanish,” he said. “One proposal is to inject the salt into depleted oil wells, which are sealed off by bedrock from the groundwater.”

The rate increase would cover the construction of the new facility.

Currently, residents of the Santa Clarita Valley pay $14.92 per month for a single family home; the proposed increases would raise those charges to $17.92 in 2009-10, $21.50 in 2010-00 and $25.75 in 2011-12.

Just like the city rate adjustment, this proposed increase is subject to a public hearing, which is scheduled at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 26.

“People can come to the hearing and say ‘raise them, don’t raise them, go to something intermediate,” Bruns said. “Nothing is a done deal.”

While he knows people naturally object to a rate increase, there is the issue of the regulatory agency that remains an immovable force in the equation.

“We have to comply with the regulation and we can’t without building the new facility,” he said. “If we’re in violation, the state law says it’s a minimum $3,000 fine for each day out of compliance. It adds up quickly.”

While homeowners’ rates are easy to compute, commercial properties would vary depending on use. Bruns said that restaurants would pay more than a store because they are dumping food down a drain and washing dishes, as opposed to just having a restroom. The size of each property and business would also vary the rate.

There is a way for customers to avoid or decrease their obligation to the agency. One is if they are on a septic system and not using the sewer at all, they do not pay.

The other is proving that you don’t use as much water as predicted.

“Our formula says that each home consumes 260 gallons of water per day. If you can demonstrate, by using 12 months of water bills, that your water consumption is significantly below that, you qualify for a reduction.

Bruns said that property owners using less than 123,000 cubic feet of water per month qualify for a 25 percent reduction; those using less than 98,000 cubic feet of water per month get a 40 percent reduction.

For more information on the county sanitation issues, visit their website at www.lacsd.org.