July 9, 2008

Board to Consider Water Hike

LONG BEACH - The Long Beach Board of Water Commissioners likely will pass a proposed 15.8 percent increase in residential water and sewage monthly bills Thursday.

Residential customers with an approximately $42 monthly bill will see an increase of about $7 per month, according to a water department staff proposal.

The water department is forced to raise rates for water and sewer services as construction and water treatment prices increase and water consumption decreases, said Ryan Alsop, director of Government and Public Affairs for the water department.

"Our water conservation efforts and our success will translate into a rate increase of some kind, but we have no choice," Alsop said.

The board will discuss fee increases at its meeting Thursday at 9:15 a.m. at the water department's administration building at 1800 E. Wardlow Road.

The department must increase rates because prices for electricity, steel production, water treatment and other construction costs have increased, Alsop said.

Imported water, which increased by about 14 percent, also will have a significant effect on water and sewer service prices, he said.

"Just the core services of providing you with water and sewer service are increasing substantially, but along with all of those increased costs is a decrease in revenue due to conservation. But, again, it's either conserve or don't have any," Alsop said.

According to Alsop, the current price for water and sewer for a single family home in Long Beach is $42 per month; $35 for water and about $7 for sewer.

Alsop said that $42 is a lower combined rate than that for most of California's largest cities.

The increase would add about $6.69 per month to the combined water and sewer bill.

At the board meeting, two resolutions will be addressed that seek the approval of fee and rate increases for water and sewer services, as well as the water department's budget for the 2008-09 fiscal year.

Resolution WD-1245, for fixing the rates and charges for water and sewer services, and Resolution WD-1246, for the adoption of an annual budget for the Long Beach Water Department for the 2008-09 fiscal year, will be presented by Kevin Wattier, the water department's general manager.

Both resolutions will require City Council approval once adopted by the Long Beach Water Commissioners, and the budget resolution will also need the city manager and mayor's approval.

Long Beach hit a new low for water consumption this June, reaching 5.7 percent below the lowest consumption rate for the month of June in the last 10 years and 10.5 percent lower than the 10 year average, officials said.

"I think that it's a sign that the public is doing the right thing, that they're engaged and that we're going to be well prepared going into what we know will be a severe shortage of water," Alsop said.

Long Beach residents need to continue to follow the regulations implemented by the Board of Water Commissioners in September 2007, he added.

Those restrictions implemented by the water department in 2007 were in response to the rapidly decreasing water levels in the state's reservoirs, drought conditions, and a federal judge's limit on the amount of water that can be pumped from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River delta, according to the department. These restrictions are permanent.

According to the Long Beach Water Department website, www.lbwater.org, 14 water-use prohibitions have been and continue to be in effect.

They include restrictions on serving drinking water at restaurants; washing sidewalks, driveways, patios and similar areas; irrigating landscape between the hours of 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., using an inefficient irrigation system and letting leaks continue without fixing them.

Alsop said in September 2007 that the water department hoped to see a lifestyle change among the public to help battle the water shortage.

"We set out to make wasting water as socially unacceptable in our community as lighting up a cigarette in a public room," Alsop said.

Alsop said that the water department has issued nearly 2,500 letters in the last 10 months to members of the community after receiving numerous tips about water wasting activities.

People can call the water department's Water Waster Hotline at 562-570-2455 to report people violating rules.

"\ are targeted, focused communications with people that may not be aware of what is going on so we are able to provide them with that education and then they can make adjustments," Alsop said.

The water department has not issued a single fine and has not had any confrontations at all, said Alsop.

The water department has focused on outdoor water usage, mainly in the yards of homes.

Alsop said that 50 percent to 60percent of the water used in the city is used outdoors.

Conservation is key Supply dwindles

In September 2007, water department officials said that the state reservoirs were at 40 percent of their capacity, which threatened the water supply.

Alsop said the reservoir situation has not improved and in fact, it has worsened.

"We had virtually no snow pack this year. It's all burned off and evaporated," Alsop said.

Because of this and other factors, Long Beach has been using up its reserves quickly to supply the city with water.

"Most of the water we're using to water our lawns ... is coming from our in-state reserves at this point. So the need to continue saving water couldn't be more important," Alsop said.

Alsop said that conditions will worsen in the next year, and that the public needs to continue the conservation trend in order for us to get through it.

"People can expect to not only continue with the current rules in place but possibly accept additional rules," Alsop said.

Alsop said that if the conservation trend does continue, it is safe to assume a 7 percent reduction in water consumption annually.

Short term vs. long term

The water department has continued to work on reducing water consumption.

In addition to the measures taken, there are long-term solutions in the works.

These include desalination, recycling water, other innovative groundwater use management and initiatives and plans that Long Beach might put together with neighboring cities.

"All of those are very important solutions to increasing the reliability of our water supplies. But what's important to remember is those are long-term, in some cases five to 10 years away. What we're dealing with is a water supply shortage next year and the year after," Alsop said.

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