Livingston leaders release water rate scenarios

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comMarch 12, 2014 

— City leaders have released three scenarios outlining increases to residents’ water and sewer rates over the next five years.

The three scenarios will be presented to the City Council at Tuesday’s meeting, though no action will be taken. The city will also hold a series of public workshops in English, Spanish and Punjabi, which have not yet been scheduled.

Besides funding improvements to the city’s water system, any increase in water rates approved by the council would also be used to help offset negative cash balances in three of the city’s four enterprise funds – a deficit of more than $1 million in water, about $400,000 in domestic wastewater and more than $1 million in industrial wastewater.

The first scenario reflects the highest ratepayer increases because it funds all projects from the city’s capital improvement program list, which include installing filtration systems to water wells, purchasing operating equipment and replacing old gear.

The second scenario includes the same capital improvements, but excludes upgrading the filtration system of one water well with high concentrations of arsenic. The third option is least costly to ratepayers, but excludes improvements to two of the city’s wells – the one in the second scenario and another that’s plagued by arsenic and manganese.

“What we’re doing is giving the City Council scenarios and allowing them to ask questions,” said City Manager Jose Ramirez. “We’ve come up with a list of items that need to be addressed over the next five years.”

The first scenario would nearly double the water rate of $9.90 to $19.08 by June or July 2014 for homes using less than 25,000 gallons of water. The rate would increase to $22.90 in 2015; $24.26 in 2016; $26.13 in 2017; and $28.19 in 2018.

As in the first scenario, the water rates would increase gradually over the next five years for the second option, reaching $19.08 in 2014; $22.90 in 2015; $23.76 in 2016; $24.63 in 2017; and $26.41 in 2018.

The third scenario would scale back the increases, setting the 2014 rate at $18.58, then reaching $21.45 in 2015; $22.58 in 2016; $23.03 in 2017; and $24.55 in 2018.

The wastewater rates are the same in all three scenarios, going from $30 to $42.22 in 2014; $42.80 in 2015; $43.47 in 2016; $43.62 in 2017; and $43.84 in 2018.

The maximum contaminant level for arsenic is 10 parts per billion, according to the state Department of Public Health. Well No. 12, which will not be upgraded under the second or third scenarios, has reached 9.3 parts per billion, according to Ramirez.

Ingestion of arsenic may cause skin damage or problems with circulatory systems, and may result in an increased risk of cancer, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Well No. 15, which won’t be upgraded under the third scenario, has arsenic levels of 9.9 parts per billion – one of the highest levels in the city. That well also contains manganese, which is not considered a health hazard but can result in brown water and stained clothing.

Once the increased water rates are put into effect, Ramirez said, they cannot be changed for five years. That means if one of the two wells not covered by repairs exceeds the state’s maximum arsenic levels, the city would be fined by the state Department of Public Health.

“If the wells go over the maximum contaminant level, the Public Health Department will issue a violation and tell us we need to address it before a certain period of time,” Ramirez said, adding the city’s never been fined before. “The city would have to figure out how to address the noncompliance order.”

Sun-Star staff writer Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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