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City considers 5 years of water rate increases
Increases to help fund surface water treatment plant
city council
This image shows an overview of the Surface Water Supply Project, which will provide Turlock and Ceres treated water for drinking from the Tuolumne River. - photo by Photo Contributed

The Turlock City Council is moving forward with a proposed water rate increase that would go to treat the City’s current groundwater wells, and help fund a new surface water treatment plant.

On-again, off-again talk of building a surface water plant for Turlock and neighboring communities dates back three decades. With the Turlock Irrigation District reaching an agreement on raw water costs with the Stanislaus Regional Water Authority, made up of the Cities of Turlock and Ceres, plans are in the works to deliver Tuolumne River water to homes in Ceres and Turlock by 2022.

To make the plan a reality, however, both cities will need to raise water rates to fund the $278 million project — with Turlock’s share approximately $172 million.

The Council voted on Sept. 26 to proceed with property owner notification requirements for the consideration of increasing water rates annually for the next five years.

Under the proposed rate structure, a single family currently paying $36 a month for water is projected to pay $42 a month in 2018, $49 a month in 2019, $57 in 2020, $67 in 2021 and $79 in 2022. The new rate includes a $25-month service fee for the typical single-family home, which covers the cost of securing the water source and delivering it to the customer.

The Council adopted a five-year rate increase schedule in 2014 to fund a groundwater only system. If adopted, the new water rate schedule would supersede the last two years of the previous rate increases and be effective starting March 2018, with annual increases following in January of each year.

Turlock Municipal Services Director Michael Cooke told the City Council that a surface water treatment plant was the “best long-term option for a reliable supply” of drinking water. Currently, 100 percent of the City’s water supply comes from pumping groundwater. However, the drinking water supply is declining, contaminant levels are increasing, and groundwater quality regulations have become more stringent.

Despite recent water conservation efforts, Cooke sees the City not able to meet water needs in the future without an alternate source.

“Our water use right now is about the same as it was 20 years ago, when our population was about 23,000 people fewer. Per capita water use is down 38 percent from 20 years ago. That’s a huge savings; people in Turlock need to be congratulated for that. Despite those savings, the aquifer has declined another 25 feet. Conservation alone is not increasing our supply of water,” said Cooke.

To move forward with the proposed rate increases, the City contracted with Regional Government Services to meet the legal notification requirements of Proposition 218, which calls for a protest election to be held prior to the Council’s consideration of adopting a series of water rate increases.

The City will hold a community meeting for the public to learn more about the proposed water rate increases and the Surface Water Supply Project at 6 p.m. Oct. 12 at City Hall in the Yosemite Conference Room.

The Council is expected to hold a public hearing of the proposed rate increases and vote on the matter at their Dec. 12 meeting.