Californians drastically cut their water use in May, but water bills for millions of the state’s residents will inch higher as municipal water agencies continue to lose money during a record four-year drought.
In April, Gov. Jerry Brown ordered California’s hundreds of water agencies to cut usage by 8% to 36%, depending on each agency’s conservation track record. But water departments say costs for maintaining pipelines, providing water and staffing customer service remain fixed.
According to the Associated Press, the Santa Barbara stands to lose $5 million in revenue if the city hits its 20% reduction target. Statewide, lost revenue could total $ billion this year if the drought persists. That means higher water bills for customers.
“Just because you use less water does not mean you have lower rates or a lower bill,” water attorney Lori Dolqueist told the AP. “All of these agencies and private water companies are being told to sell less of what they do. It’s a challenge financially.”
To stay afloat, Santa Barbara water customers will have to fork over an additional $13 to $120, depending on the amount of water they use. In San Francisco, the average customer of the East Bay Municipal Utility District will pay an additional $12 per month. The town of Roseville in Sacramento reportedly raised $1 million over the past year by tacking a 15 percent temporary “drought fee” onto water costs.
Still, some customers don’t understand how they could be paying more to receive less water.
“Our folks are coming in and saying, ‘Hey, I’m doing everything right, why do I need to pay more?'” Santa Barbara water resources manager Joshua Haggmark told the AP.
Breitbart News reported in March that several of the largest Bay Area water agencies were considering raising rates to combat falling revenue. The agencies were debating raising rates even before Gov. Brown ordered the first mandatory water cutbacks in state history.
Meanwhile, top executives at the largest water districts continue to take home massive paychecks during the drought. According to a Bay Area News Group investigation, the top executives at the Bay Area’s four largest water district each took home more than double the pay of California’s best-paid government official, Brown, who earns roughly $160,000 per year.
In March, Great Oaks Water Co. vice president Tim Guster told the Contra Costa Times that water agencies should find a way to combat falling revenue without raising customers’ rates.
“It’s too easy to say that their costs are all fixed,” Guster told the paper. “The truth is they’re not. It’s the duty of this and other government agencies to control their own costs.”