Calaveras County Water District’s decision to raise water and wastewater rates by nearly 70 percent over a five-year period has resulted in turbulence among the district’s ratepayers. Letters explaining the rate increases were received by the entire district’s estimated 13,000 water customers and 4,800 sewer users Tuesday, May 28.

For Bertha Underhill, a former district board member and current customer, the proposed rate increases were “absolutely ridiculous.”

“I’m all for preventative maintenance,” said Underhill. “It’s something all agencies have to do, but the main thing missing in that letter was the 69 percent increase for water and 62 percent for wastewater. That’s absolutely ridiculous. Do they not know what we’re under?”

While acknowledging that infrastructure replacement was necessary, Underhill said the methods CCWD was implementing to raise the needed funds were “full of holes.” She recommended the district consider a pay-as-you-go method to ease the financial burden still facing many households.

“All of these pipes are not going to break all at one time,” she said, recalling a similar situation that occurred in Tuolumne County when the county’s main water district – Tuolumne Utilities District – sought to substantially increase service rates. Four of the district’s five board members were voted out of office last year and a much smaller rate increase was implemented.

“A lot of people are still analyzing (the notification letter),” said Underhill. “People are just in a state of shock. And when they get over that state of shock? Look out.”

If a majority of the district’s customers provide written protest letters to CCWD by July 10, the rate hikes will not take effect. A sample protest letter is available on the district’s website along with more information at ccwd.org.

The district issued the following statement summarizing the rate increase process:

After conducting a thorough review of its revenue and expense requirements, the Calaveras County Water District is proposing a five-year water and wastewater rate change for all residential and commercial customers. The proposal will be considered by the District’s Board of Directors at a public hearing on Wednesday, July 10, and if approved, the rate change will be effective Sept. 1.

During the first year of the proposed rate plan, the average residential water bill would increase approximately $11 per month and the residential wastewater bill would increase around $10 per month.

“After years of extensive use, much of the district’s water and wastewater infrastructure has reached the end of its useful life and needs to be replaced to avoid costly emergency repairs and state regulatory fines.” said President Dennis Dooley.

Capital improvement costs are the major reason for the rate changes and the new revenue will fund the repair and replacement of existing water and wastewater infrastructure. The rate revenue will also pay for a State mandated multi-million dollar upgrade to the district’s Copper Cove Wastewater Treatment Facility, as well as provide funding for operations, maintenance, and debt service over the next five years.

To help offset the impacts of the proposed rate change, the district initiated numerous cost saving measures, including operational costs savings and reduced debt service costs as a result of refinancing its debt at a lower interest rate. More information is available at ccwd.org.

Contact Kristine Williams at kristine@calaverasenterprise.com.

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