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San Diego will increase sewer rates 31% over four years for single-family customers

Officials show San Diego's Pure Water sewage recycling program facilities in 2015.
(John Gibbins / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The city says the rate spike is needed to upgrade aging pipes and complete the Pure Water sewage recycling system. Rates are going down for most businesses, condos and apartments.

San Diego single-family homes will see a 17 percent sewer rate increase next year and 31 percent over the next four years under a new rate structure the City Council approved Sept. 21.

The plan, which takes effect Jan. 1, will reduce sewer rates for most businesses, condominiums and apartments based on two comprehensive studies indicating that those customers have been paying more than their fair share.

Those studies also determined that customers in single-family homes, who make up about 80 percent of the city’s 2.2 million sewer customers, haven’t been paying enough since the last time sewer rates were analyzed in 2007.

Council members said it’s tough to raise rates when many residents are still struggling with the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. But they said the city’s aging sewer infrastructure could collapse without money for upgrades.

“We are trying to run a city in the year 2021 based on technology and materials that frankly come from 1961 in a lot of cases, and this is really not acceptable,” Councilman Raul Campillo said. “Asking ratepayers to contribute another penny is never ideal because we live in one of the least affordable regions in the United States, but we have a duty as elected officials to make those hard decisions.”

Council members Joe LaCava and Chris Cate emphasized that money from the higher rates will help fund San Diego’s roughly $5 billion Pure Water sewage recycling system, which they called crucial to the city’s water independence.

Without Pure Water to recycle treated sewage, San Diego would have to spend an estimated $3 billion upgrading the city’s main sewer treatment plant in Point Loma to meet federal standards, the city says.

When the sewer rate changes for all customers are combined, sewer system revenue is projected to increase about 5 percent in 2022, 4 percent each in 2023 and 2024 and 3 percent in 2025.

A typical owner of a single-family home would see the monthly bill increase from $40.52 to $47.64 next year. The bill would then climb to $49.58 in January 2023, $51.53 in January 2024 and $53.07 in January 2025.

The increase to $47.64 would raise San Diego from third-lowest among sewer agencies in the county to the middle of the pack.

For businesses, rates would go down 5 percent in 2022. Condos and apartments would see a 12.1 percent decrease next year.

The council’s approval also included a roughly 20 percent increase in the fee that new sewer customers pay when they hook up to the system.

The Building Industry Association lobbied unsuccessfully to have that increase phased in over two years.

Cate and Councilwoman Vivian Moreno said staggering the increase would make sense, noting that many large housing projects under construction haven’t yet paid the fee and may experience sticker shock when they do.

City officials said the increased money from a higher hook-up charge is built into their revenue model, so staggering it would likely require higher rate increases for other customers. The fee hasn’t increased since 2007.

The approval also included the first update since the 1980s to the city’s industrial wastewater control program, which requires businesses to help pay for anti-pollution efforts. Those fee increases will be phased in.

The city’s failure to identify polluters increases toxins in ocean, creates uneven playing field for businesses

The final element of the approval was a 3 percent water rate hike that city officials described as a “pass-through” increase.

The San Diego County Water Authority raised rates for imported water 5.6 percent recently, and city officials said they are passing on 3 percent to local customers.

Cate voted against the water rate increase but approved the other items.

Council members emphasized that the sewer rate increases are phased in to soften their impact. They also noted that the increases are smaller than initially proposed because city officials got a second opinion from an outside consultant last spring.

Residents facing financial hardship because of the pandemic may qualify for funding to help cover rent, utilities and internet service. To apply, visit covidassistance.sdhc.org.

The city also has a “help to others” program, a bill payment assistance option for qualified customers, at sandiego.gov/h2o.

For additional information about rate increases, including a bill calculator, visit sandiego.gov/rate-increases.


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