Written by Peter Wang
Associate Opinion Editor
Photos by Helena Fu
The South Pasadena City Council approved increases to the cost of water service at a meeting on Wednesday, November 1st. The initial rate changes will take effect on January 1st, 2018. Additionally, most residents will see a decrease in their sewer rates next year.
Public Works director Paul Toor outlined general changes and the rationale behind each change. South Pasadena’s smaller population results in much higher water and sewer costs per user compared to neighboring cities, as average rates must be kept higher to generate the same amount of revenue as other cities. Another cause of the upcoming rate increases is the city’s commitment to protecting the aquifer and providing residents with quality water service.
“Nobody likes to pay more for water,” Councilmember Mahmud said, “But unfortunately, in order to provide [our residents] with good quality water service, this is what we need to do.”
Since South Pasadena has a smaller population compared to neighboring cities, average costs must be made higher to generate the same amount of revenue as other cities. The city also purchases expensive supplemental water to avoid draining the local San Gabriel Basin aquifer; this water comes from sources such as Northern California or the Colorado River. The cost of imported water is projected to rise from $20 per acre-foot currently to $175.
The final contributor to increasing costs is debt from upgrades and maintenance to the city’s aging water system, which has costed the city $40 million so far, with future projects projected at $25 million. The costly maintenance and upgrades are required to protect the San Gabriel Basin aquifer from drainage and subsequent collapse. If the aquifer were to fail, South Pasadena and neighboring cities must resort to importing all of their water supply.
Although a small group of residents protested the change, the city decided that there was no majority opposition, and unanimously adopted the plan. The 63 letters received at the time of the meeting fell far short of the 3100 required to counteract the change.
The new policy comes as a result of a study on the city’s water and sewer services, which occurs once every five years; the latest five-year plan lasts until 2022. After five years, base water rates per household will increase from $73 to $94, charged bi-monthly. However, sewer rates will eventually remain near the current $30 level.