Water rates will go up nine percent in 2019 as the City of Santa Monica embarks on several projects to wean itself off of imported water.
City Council is expected to approve the rate hike at its Tuesday meeting. The average single-family home customer will pay about $4.33 more per month for water to fund the design of a larger, more efficient water treatment plant, the purchase of a new well and the cost of replacing the city’s aging water mains, said chief sustainability officer Dean Kubani.
The rate increase will go into effect retroactively on Jan. 1.
The City set a goal of achieving water self-sufficiency in 2011 and originally aimed to get there by 2020. Staff said that would take an additional three years in December 2018.
Using local water will be cheaper and ensure residents can receive water even during regional droughts. In addition, producing and transporting local water will use far less greenhouse gases than importing it.
Since 2015, the City has projected water rates to rise nine percent each year to fund water self-sufficiency projects, but rates only rose five percent in 2016, 2017 and 2018 because the City received more revenue from water sales than expected and had to delay some projects because it didn’t have enough engineers and water staff, Kubani said.
Water rates rose by 33 percent between 2015 and 2019, although City staff said Santa Monicans are still paying less for water than their neighbors in Los Angeles, Culver City or Beverly Hills. The average Los Angeles family pays $176 per month for water, while a family in Santa Monica will pay $105 in 2019.
Kubani said the incremental rate increases will make water less expensive in the long-term because the money will fund projects that will allow Santa Monica to stop importing water from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD), which sources most of its water from the Colorado River.
“We’re expecting MWD prices to increase sharply over the next 10 years,” he said. “We’re seeing major, long-term droughts in the Southwest impacting the Colorado River, so we really can’t rely on imported water anymore.”
This year’s rate increase will go toward the initial costs of redesigning the Arcadia Water Treatment Plant to be larger and more efficient. The plant currently produces 82 gallons of treated water for every 100 gallons of raw water, and the City is looking to raise that number to 90 gallons.
“That’s a significant amount of new water and one of the most cost-effective things we can do to increase our local water supply,” Kubani said.
The money will also partially fund a new well, which in addition to producing more water will provide the City will a backup in case another well breaks down and avoid having to start importing water again.
Finally, the funds will partially offset the cost of replacing the city’s water mains. The City is aiming to have a completely new set of water mains every 100 years, which requires the replacement of two miles of mains each year. That cost about $4 million per year until last year, when construction costs increased dramatically, Kubani said. To stay on schedule, the City will have to spend $6 million per year.
“The City of Los Angeles has had some huge water main breaks recently because a lot of their mains are 200 years old or older,” he said. “We want to make sure our equipment is replaced regularly.”