Water rates to rise this summer for most Sonoma County residents

Homes and businesses that get their water through the Sonoma County Water Agency can expect rates to climb this summer.|

Water rates for 386,000 Sonoma County residents are set to go up July 1, an increase driven by residential and commercial customers actually saving water.

Customers who receive water from Sonoma County Water Agency can expect rates to go up between 2 to 3 percent, which equates to an increase of 50 cents to $2 per month. The increases cover residential and commercial customers in Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Rohnert Park, Windsor, Sonoma, Cotati and those served by the Valley of the Moon Water District, all of whom receive water from the agency.

The average monthly water bill in Santa Rosa, for example, is set to go up 57 cents, whereas bills outside Sonoma could see slightly larger increases to account for higher delivery costs for the region.

The increases are being passed off to customers by the cities and water districts that purchase wholesale water from the Water Agency. The increases also will apply to retailers supplying water to Marin County customers.

Wholesale rates are set to rise 6 to 7 percent this summer due to a loss in revenue from water conservation, Water Agency officials said.

“Because of the drought and much-needed water conservation, people have significantly cut back on their usage. That has reduced our revenue,” said Michael Gossman, a Water Agency finance division manager. “But unfortunately, just because demand for water goes down, that doesn’t mean our system operations and maintenance demands go down. We have to find a way to cover those ongoing costs.”

The agency experienced a 20 percent decrease in revenue from 2015 to 2016, Gossman said, with revenues falling from $42 million last year to $35 million for 2016.

“I don’t think anybody expected that big of a reduction,” Gossman said.

He said the Water Agency has incurred expenses for maintenance of its water transmission lines, and has significant projects underway, including upgrades to help the system withstand an earthquake.

A $10.9 million project is deepening water transport systems under two areas along the Russian River - one near the Wohler Bridge outside Forestville, and another near Mark West Creek about a mile south of the Russian River.

Those areas are prone to liquefaction, or the loosening of soils due to rapid shaking during an earthquake.

The agency also is installing a series of shutoff valves that would close off the water supply if pipes are damaged during an earthquake.

Officials said the Water Agency has sought to offset costs for such projects through internal budget cuts, as well as federal grants.

“We’ve significantly cut our costs to reduce our rate increases,” Gossman said. “But some of these projects are a high priority that we would never want to sacrifice. They are vital to the health of the system.”

You can reach Staff Writer Angela Hart at 526-8503 or angela.hart@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ahartreports.

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