Drought Forcing Up San Francisco-Area Water Rates

Most San Francisco Bay Area residents are facing steep price hikes for water as California's drought stretches into its fourth year.

Three of the region's largest water agencies have either newly approved or will soon consider rate hikes of nearly one-third, the San Jose Mercury News reported Sunday

Beau Goldie of the Santa Clara Valley Water District told the newspaper that conservation efforts by San Francisco-area residents amid the drought already are costing local water agencies tens of millions of dollars in revenue from water sales.

Water agencies say the drought also is driving up their costs, in part by forcing districts to pay more to buy water from an underground water bank in Kern County. Conservation programs to encourage Bay Area residents to reduce lawn-watering and otherwise save water also are costing the agencies additional money.

"We don't want to raise water rates,'' Goldie, the Santa Clara Valley district's chief executive, said. "We can't control the drought.''

The Bay Area's largest water district, the San Francisco Public Utilities District, announced in February that it will increase rates 32 percent. Much of that would offset $25 million in lost revenue after residents cut water use 11 percent in 2014.

The Santa Clara Valley water agency and East Bay Municipal Utility District also plan to consider price increases of about one-third in coming weeks.

"We've gone through these first years of drought with minimal financial impact on our customers,'' said spokeswoman Abby Figueroa of the East Bay water agency. "But with another year of drought, the water reserves are down, and the financial reserves are down. And customers are going to have to cut back and foot more of the bill.''

The three agencies together serve 5.8 million people, or 80 percent of the San Francisco Bay Area's customers.

California's cities typically use less than one-tenth of the state's overall water supply. Agriculture in California accounts for about 80 percent of all human uses of water, and many farmers also are facing rising water costs and diminished supplies.

Gov. Jerry Brown in January 2014 asked urban users to cut water use by 20 percent.

Higher water rates might make Californians work harder to meet that conservation goal, one Bay Area resident said.

"People have to wake up and understand that their actions have a cost,'' said Patricia Zuker of Walnut Creek. "Sometimes that means charging them more. Some people won't get it otherwise.''

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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