Cal Am projects what water bills will look like in 2015.
Thursday, April 14, 2011
Ever-higher water bills are a constant on the Monterey Peninsula. With several different projects coming down the pipe – including the regional desalination project, the San Clemente Dam removal and Cal Am’s request for a general rate increase – it’s not a question of if residents will pay more money for water, it’s a question of how much.
“The big question on everybody’s mind right now is: ‘What’s going to happen to my water bill as a result of these projects?’ Unfortunately, we don’t have the answer right now,” says Catherine Bowie, Cal Am spokeswoman.
But the water company does have some estimates.
According to June 2010 scenarios prepared by Cal Am and reviewed by the Division of Ratepayer Advocates (a branch of the California Public Utilities Commission that advocates for customer and environmental protections), the average residential customer, who used 70 units of water (of 10 cubic feet each) in June 2010 and paid $45 a month, could see his bill climb to $105 a month in 2015.
These numbers assume the CPUC grants Cal Am its general rate case request and includes a $64.4 million annual Regional Water Project and a $15.6 million San Clemente Dam removal project.
Similarly, a household with a low monthly use of 30 units that paid $21 a month could see its bill go up to $34. Those using more water (120 units) and paying $99 a month could see bills increase by 178 percent, up to $277. Meanwhile, households that used 200 units per month – think: Pebble Beach, huge homes with massive lawns to water – could see their $297 a month bill skyrocket 203 percent, to $903 in 2015.
Of course, non-residential customers will pay more for water, too. A 47-room hotel with an $849 water bill in June 2010 could see its monthly bill jump to $2,878 in 2015; a 100-seat restaurant that paid $351 could pay $1,148; a 6,500-square-foot retail shop with a $873 monthly bill could see its water bill climb upwards of $2,963; and a 26,453-square-foot school, paying $79 a month, could have a $203 monthly water bill.
Both Cal Am and the DRA are quick to point out that projections are only estimates, and as such, may very well change.
“They rely on certain assumptions,” explains Max Gomberg, DRA policy analyst, “And, of course, the biggest cost driver is the desalination project. It depends on financing, how much it costs to construct it, how much time it takes to construct it. These numbers are also based upon the full amount of money Cal Am has requested, with the general rate case and the San Clemente Dam project. It’s unlikely the commission will grant Cal Am the full amount.”
Additionally, in the near future, Cal Am will file an application with the CPUC to change the way it charges customers, essentially eliminating the discount for low-end residential users. At press time, Bowie says the water company doesn’t know when the rate design proceeding will begin.
But it could also affect water bills in the future: “The rate design and the [Regional Water Project] financing plan are going to be two huge steps to getting a more definite projection of what will occur and what water bills will look like,” Bowie says.