San Jose water bills could go up, despite years of conservation efforts

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When California’s historic drought mandated that residents take shorter showers, cut back on watering their lawns and give up washing their cars, folks in San Jose did their part to save water. 

At the start of the drought in 2014, then Gov. Jerry Brown set down a 20 percent reduction target (from 2013 levels) for urban water suppliers. San Jose Water Company hit the mark every year from 2015 to 2018. Further, the water company put in place a “critical water reduction plan” in order to meet a 30 percent water-use reduction goal set by the Santa Clara Valley Water District and residents nearly achieved that goal during 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018. 

But there’s good news and bad news now about past water reduction and how it could actually raise your monthly water bill in coming months.

First the good news: the drought is over. The hills are green, the ski resorts are packed with powder, the poppies are in super bloom, and residents can now enjoy those long showers and their Saturday morning car washes.  

Now the bad news: Every three years, California Public Utilities Commission sets the price for water based on projections for how much water it believes San Jose customers will use.  

The projections turned out to be way off because of conservation and past water savings actually hurt San Jose Water’s bottom line.

Here’s why: 60 percent of costs to operate a water utility are “fixed” in order to maintain and operate the water system, and provide safe, reliable, round-the-clock, high-quality, water, San Jose Water says.

Those operating procedures are required regardless of the amount of water used in homes and business.

The remaining portion of the operating costs are recovered by calculating the amount of water people actually use and sending them a bill each month.

And now San Jose Water has notified the public that the company wants to impose a year-long surcharge beginning this summer to recover what it described as an “under-collection” of more than $9 million in fixed costs.

If the California Public Utilities Commission approves this surcharge, your monthly bill will go up about $2.19, according to the water company. This surcharge would allow San Jose Water to recover its uncollected fixed costs from 2018. Rate hikes would begin on or about July 1.

The water company notice has angered resident who are complaining on social media about the potential for higher water bill

“Not our problem,” wrote one man on the Nextdoor website, while also urging his neighbors to protest the rate hikes.

“It doesn’t seem to make sense that if you’re doing your part in conserving it, you’re gonna be charged more,” said Christy Stevens, a San Jose Water customer.

Currently, mandatory conservation rules from the state as well as a call for continued conservation from Valley Water – previously known as the Santa Clara Valley Water District – remain in place so it remains unclear if the surcharge scenario could play out in future years. 

Customers wishing to offer their feedback on the proposal may do so by mail or email to the CPUC’s Water Division by April 18, at:
California Public Utilities Commission
Tariff Unit, Water Division
505 Van Ness Avenue – 3rd Floor
San Francisco, CA 94102