Roseville residents to see water hikes because of drought
Sacramento Bee (CA), 2014-02-19
Feb. 19--Roseville residents are likely see dramatic price increases on their water bills if a drought emergency is declared in the city.
The systematic rate hikes could hit as early as next month, if the water crisis fails to improve, officials said. Roseville operates its own water utility, which serves most of the city's businesses and 127,000 residents.
Like other neighboring communities, Roseville for decades has sourced water from Folsom Lake. But because of historic low water levels, officials are working on a multipronged drought plan.
The message from the city is simple: "If you don't cut back, you will be paying more for water," said Ed Kriz, Roseville's environmental utilities director. "It gives our customers a price signal."
Ratepayers will see a surcharge that fluctuates depending on the severity of the water situation. Between the five different "drought stages," customers will need to reduce between 10 and 50 percent of usage to maintain the same bill. The surcharge for stage five would represent a 60 percent premium over the regular rate.
In short, residents will be paying more money to use less water.
At play is basic economics. If water usage goes down, so does revenue. Roseville's utility is supported by ratepayers, and fixed costs don't go away, even in a drought.
The surcharges "allow us to attain financial stability to continue our operations," Kriz said. "In these times, our operational costs are only going to go up."
Utility officials are working around the clock to ensure the city isn't left dry during the summer. The city's four wells, considered to be a backup supply, are now in operation after a 23-year hiatus.
The wells can pump a steady stream of up to 10 million gallons of water a day, according to Kriz. For now, the wells produce 7 million gallons every day, representing 40 percent of the city's needs.
The costs of battling the drought are certain to rise with time. In anticipation of drier conditions, the Roseville City Council early this month earmarked nearly $1 million to pay for extended operations, community outreach and staffing. The money will come from the utility's reserve fund, Kriz said.
Officials are also considering speeding up construction of two new ground wells, which are being built at a cost of $5 million.
In February, Roseville residents typically use 18 million gallons of water per day. In the summertime, demand balloons to 55 million gallons per day, half of which feeds thirsty trees and lawns, Kriz said.
Ultimately, officials hope the "price signal" will encourage conservation. A voluntary 20 percent cutback order has yielded few results, Kriz said.
Roseville water customers can take advantage of an online tool called WaterInsight, which provides data on usage and offers tips on conservation at https://roseville.waterinsight.com.
Water districts in the region are eagerly awaiting an allocation announcement Friday by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which manages Folsom Dam.
Drew Peterson, a forecaster with the National Weather Service, said the weather isn't likely to cooperate anytime soon. A major storm two weeks ago brought Sacramento to 36 percent of normal for precipitation, but the time to make up the rain is passing quickly.
"There's nothing on the horizon that's going to change the outlook of the current drought situation," Peterson said. "You can get a 'Miracle March,' but with the weather, you can never put down anything 100 percent."
If the situation gets worse, water providers in the state could resort to rationing, whereby each customer would receive a certain allocation, said Frank Loge, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at UC Davis.
"That's the final step to ensure everyone gets some water," he said.
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