In a meeting Tuesday, the Angels Camp City Council authorized staff to move forward with a five-year water and wastewater capital improvement plan (CIP) that includes an annual 8% rate increase for water and wastewater services.
The city’s water utility provides service to 2,029 customers, and the sewage utility provides service to 1,905 residents.
For water services, however, many of the 92% of residential customers may actually see a decrease in their bill in the first year as the city aligns monthly meter rates with the AWWA Meter Equivalent Ratios and the residential monthly meter rate drops $5.25 per month, according to Emily Orr, the finance officer for the city. That’s because 70% of the rate is the meter rate. The other 30% of the water rate, volumetric rates, will increase 8% in the first year and each year after that during the 5 year rate study period.
The last time Angels Camp adopted a water rate increase was 2009. Since then, costs have been driven up by inflation, operational expenses and deferred maintenance on aging water and sewer infrastructure and variable water year conditions, according to City Administrator Melissa Eads.
In addition to meeting the costs of repairing and replacing infrastructure, ratepayers will have to shoulder the burden of a higher annual charge from the Utica Water and Power Authority (UWPA) on the city for water delivery services.
The City of Angels Camp and the Murphys-based Union Public Utility District are part of a joint powers agreement with the UWPA. That agreement provides the city’s entire water supply.
Formed in 1852 to keep local control over the water, UWPA maintains a 27-mile-long water conveyance system stretching from Hunters Reservoir down to Angels Camp and two powerhouses, according to Karen Rojas, the UWPA interim general manager.
From 1995 to 2013, communities served by the utility received water at little to no cost. Since then, variability in water availability for hydro-power generation, changing energy markets and a lack of investment in its aging distribution system have left the UWPA in a financial bind.
Eads said that the UWPA has notified the city of deficits in previous meetings ranging from $500,000 per year to $1.3 million, depending on the water year.
“Without a healthy UWPA, the city doesn’t have a healthy distribution system for our water,” Eads said.
The UWPA fee in the Angels Camp staff report indicated a yearly payment of $400,000 to meet maintenance needs for a water year three. That’s a “conservative” estimate of how much UWPA will need from year to year, depending on snowpack levels, according to Eads.
Rojas said the authority expects to have its own capital improvement plan finished within the coming months. That will detail funding needs for a $3-4 million Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) license renewal due in 2033, in addition to the costs of maintenance on flumes, ditches and powerhouses.
“We’ve been struck by a lot of external factors,” Rojas said, with reference to drought and competition from the solar market. “In the past we were able to offset the cost of delivery. Power generation was able to help subsidize that and that’s now no longer happening. We now have to rely on ratepayers to pay for some of that cost.”
In a May 22 study session, city councilmembers heard a presentation from Dave Richard of Drake Haglan and Associates on what its long-term plan for water and wastewater improvements should look like.
He detailed nine future projects for infrastructural improvements to the city’s water and sewer lines. With a total cost in excess of $9.8 million, those include installing a second pipeline along Murphys Grade Road, developing a process to reclaim backwashed water for retreatment and replacing a plant filter, among other projects.
Richard prioritized meeting regulatory requirements, adding that the state division of drinking water is prepared to fine the city if it does not make the changes necessary to come into compliance and improve the reliability of the water treatment plant.
“This is the dynamic that we’re dealing with as we talk about what capital improvements are required,” Richard said.
Richard listed “consequence of failure, improving service and future capacity” as secondary drivers for the improvements.
In some areas of the city’s 167,000 linear feet of transmission lines, the piping is estimated to have been in use for over 50 years.
“We’re in a vulnerable position,” Eads said. “In the last five years we have seen the most rapid swings from water year to water year. This is how jurisdictions are struggling to adapt to a changing environment where it’s becoming less and less predictable.”
If adopted, construction on three projects would start in 2019, in addition to the planning for another two projects.
A draft of the plan will be presented to the board June 18, and a public hearing will be held on Aug. 18 for community members to weigh in on the proposed rate increase.
If adopted, the increase would be included in the billing cycle for Sep. 1.