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City talks water rate hikes at public meeting
water rates graphic

Turlock residents got a chance to have their questions answered regarding the City’s current drinking water supply, plan to supplement groundwater sources with a new surface water system and the rate hikes that are needed to pay for it.

The City of Turlock has proposed a five-year schedule of water rate increases and on Thursday, members of the community had an opportunity to delve into details about the need for the rate hikes with Municipal Services Director Michael Cooke, Regulatory Affairs Manager Garner Reynolds and the City’s financial and government services consultants.

“I was pleased to get that many questions. The more our customers are engaged and understand our water system, the better it is,” said Cooke.

Currently, 100 percent of the City of Turlock’s drinking water supply comes from groundwater. However, the drinking water supply is declining, contaminant levels are increasing and groundwater quality regulations have become more stringent.

The water level in the aquifers has decreased by 25 feet since 1996. The City has also had trouble maintaining its groundwater wells. The City went from 24 active wells to 17 over the past five years. Out of the 17 wells, three are under rehabilitation and 11 are at 75 percent of the maximum contaminant level. The City will also have to install new wellhead treatment and implement water system chlorination due to new Trichloropropane regulations from the State Water Board that go into effect Jan. 1, 2018.

For the past 30 years, the City has been working on securing an alternate source of water — treated surface water from the Tuolumne River. Recently, the Cities of Turlock and Ceres, as members of the Stanislaus Regional Water Authority, have started the process of building a plant to deliver treated Tuolumne River water to homes by 2022.

Both Ceres and Turlock would blend the new source of water with treated groundwater. Turlock could receive up to 10 mgd while Ceres has a claim of 5 mgd. Construction of the plant will cost $288 million, with Turlock paying $182 million and Ceres $100 million.

To cover expenses, both cities need to raise water rates under the protest hearing outlined in Prop. 218.

Under the proposal, the average single-family water bill is expected to go from $43 a month in 2018 to $78 a month in 2022. 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.

During Thursday’s meeting, a number of questions were asked regarding how the water rates are calculated, specifically, how the majority of the water rates (70 percent) are “fixed” charges with only 30 percent based on how much water a customer actually uses.

Tom Pavletic of Municipal Financial Services explained that Turlock’s decision to structure the water rates with a majority on fixed costs has allowed the City’s water operations to remain stable during tough economic times and drastic decreases in water usage.

The City of Turlock will soon be mailing out an official notice to water customers about the proposed rate increases prior to the public hearing, which is set for 6 p.m. Dec. 12 in the Yosemite Room at City Hall. Under Prop. 218, if the City receives written protests by 50 percent of the affected parcels, plus one (approximately 9,500 parcels) the rate increases cannot be implemented.

To be counted, the protest has to be made in writing and received by the City before 6 p.m. Dec. 12. Emailed requests cannot be accepted. Protests can be mailed or taken in person to: City of Turlock, 156 S. Broadway, Turlock, CA 95380.

For more information about the water rates or protest process, call Municipal Services at 668-5590.