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San Diego increases sewer rates 31% over four years for single-family customers

Officials showed off the Pure Water program's facilities
In 2015, officials showed off the Pure Water program’s facilities.
(John Gibbins / San Diego Union-Tribune)

The San Diego City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a 17% sewer rate increase for single-family homes next year and a 31% increase for those customers over the next four years.

The new rate structure, which takes effect Jan. 1, reduces sewer rates for most businesses, condos and apartments based on two comprehensive studies showing those customers have been paying more than their fair share.

But those studies also showed that customers in single-family homes, who make up about 80% of the city’s 2.2 million sewer customers, haven’t been paying enough since the last time sewer rates were analyzed in 2007.

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Council members said it’s tough to raise rates when many residents are still struggling with the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. But they said the city’s aging sewer infrastructure could collapse without upgrades.

“We are trying to run a city in the year 2021 based on technology and materials that, frankly, come from 1961 in a lot of cases, and this is really not acceptable,” said Councilmember Raul Campillo. “Asking ratepayers to contribute another penny is never ideal because we live in one of the least affordable regions in the United States, but we have a duty as elected officials to make those hard decisions.”

Councilmembers Joe LaCava and Chris Cate also stressed that money from the higher rates will help fund the city’s roughly $5-billion Pure Water sewage recycling system, which they called crucial to San Diego’s water independence.

Without Pure Water to recycle treated sewage, San Diego would have had to spend an estimated $3 billion upgrading the city’s main sewer treatment plant in Point Loma to meet federal standards.

When the sewer rate changes for all customers are combined, they are projected to increase sewer system revenues by about 5% in 2022, 4% each in 2023 and 2024, and 3% in 2025.

The owner of a typical single-family home would see their monthly bill increase from $40.52 to $47.64 next year. Their bill would then climb to $49.58 in January 2023, $51.53 in January 2024 and $53.07 in January 2025.

The increase to $47.64 would move San Diego up from third lowest among sewer agencies in the county to the middle of the pack.

For businesses, rates would go down 5% in 2022. Condos and apartments would see a 12.1% decrease next year.

The council’s approval also included a roughly 20% increase in the fee new sewer customers pay when they hook up to the system.

The approval also included the first update since the 1980s to the city’s industrial wastewater control program, which requires businesses to pay their fair share for anti-pollution efforts. Those fee increases will be phased in.

The final element of Tuesday’s approval was a 3% water rate increase that city officials described as a “pass-through” increase.

The County Water Authority raised rates for imported water 5.6% recently, and city officials said they are passing only 3% on to customers.

Some residents complained that sewer rates for some apartment and condo complexes don’t give residents credit for using water to cultivate gardens. City officials said that might be true, but that they must treat all apartments and condos as part of one customer class with the same fee structure.

Campillo said ratepayers and residents should be pleased that the council is making tough choices and being transparent about the challenges San Diego faces.

“This council is doing what past councils haven’t — it’s leveling with you,” he said.

Garrick writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.


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