Opinion: Customer says district’s water rates are unfair | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Opinion: Customer says district’s water rates are unfair

steve jacobs
Special to the tribune

I am extremely frustrated with the South Lake Tahoe Public Utility District. I believe many of us are being victimized by STPUD’s water policy. Its rates are inequitable and should be illegal.

If you do not yet have a water meter you can use as much water as you like and you will continue to be billed at the “flat-rate” of approximately $200 per quarter for water and sewer service. STPUD eventually will install a meter at your house

If you already have a water meter you will be charged for every drop of water you consume. I recently received my quarterly bill of almost $500. There are two people in my household. We use water conservatively and have extensive landscaping but no lawn. A neighbor lives alone and has a lawn, received a bill for almost $800. Another neighbor has a family of four and a lawn, received a bill for more than $900.

The problems

Of course water is a basic life necessity and fortunately we have plenty here in the basin. While it is everyone’s responsibility to use water conservatively, I do not think it is right that STPUD wants us to live like we are in a continual drought. People with a reasonable amount of landscaping and who water responsibly should not be penalized. Water is relatively cheap to provide since it does not need to be sewage-treated or pumped out of the basin.

People without meters will continue to pay the flat-rate regardless of the quantity of water they use while those of us with meters are being forced to pay for every drop of water consumed. If you are a full-time resident and have landscaping you will likely pay substantially more for water. If you do not have landscaping, or if you are a second-home owner (with property that sit mostly vacant), you will probably pay substantially less. This rate system is not equitable and STPUD openly admits its current water rate policy is unfair.

STPUD says that California law requires the district to charge metered customers for their water based on volume consumed. While this is true, there is no state law that establishes the actual rate STPUD has elected to charge us. The problem is STPUD has set the water rates way too high.

This inequity is amplified in our community where we have a high percentage of second homes. In order to keep the rates “revenue neutral,” STPUD has set water rates substantially higher for those of us who live here full time and use a “normal” amount of water. The result is, those who already struggle financially to live here will now subsidize those who can afford to have a vacation home at the lake.

Possible solutions

The laws and policies relative to water usage need to be established and applied fairly and impartially. STPUD’S current water-rate policy clearly does not meet this test. Here are some possible solutions:

– STPUD intends to raise rates aggressively over the coming years. Prior to establishing user rates, I believe STPUD needs to take a hard look at every aspect of their operation to ensure they are doing everything possible to minimize waste and maximize operational efficiencies. I do not see that STPUD has ever made any effort to do this. STPUD needs to evaluate staff compensation packages, staffing levels and implement infrastructure cost controls.

– I believe STPUD should increase the fixed portion of the water bill (the meter charge) and substantially decrease the consumption rate portion of the water bill (to near zero) until such time that all of their customers have water meters. This should comply with state law and would alleviate much of the inequity and class disparity for residents and second-home owners.

– I believe STPUD should establish a tiered-usage, seasonally adjusted base rate so that people can afford to water their landscaping in the summer. (Tiered rates are commonly used by many utility companies).

STPUD says with current water rates over the course of an entire year the total amount that a metered customer pays will equal the amount paid by a flat-rate customer. But this is simply not going to be true for anyone with landscaping that needs to be watered in summer.

I encourage everyone to attend a STPUD Board meeting and express their thoughts.

– Steve Jacobs is a longtime South Shore resident. The South Tahoe Public Utility’s response will appear Friday, Dec. 30.

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