OAKHURST – An informal public meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 3 at the Yosemite High School cafeteria, to discuss the proposed water rate increase by Hillview Water Company (HWC).
The meeting will be moderated by Moises Chavez , a California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) analyst who will be gathering public input and explaining the CPUC’s process for reviewing proposed rate increases such as Hillview’s.
In 2014, HWC’s 1,461 meters, representing an average of 2.3 persons per household, monitored customers who used a total of 26.5 million gallons. Last year, this meant an average of 371 gallons per capita per day. Due to conservation measures by their customers, projections for 2015 water use are down over 20 percent, and over 30 percent in the last four months, according to Ralph Fairfield, Compliance and Resource Officer for HWC.
While customers are doing their part to reduce water use, operating costs for Hillview have increased while their revenues are decreasing, says Fairfield.
Hillview is planning three new water treatment plants, all funded by $14 million in grant monies that will reduce dissolved minerals in the water, improving water quality for their customers. Among the dissolved components in water flowing over hard rock is uranium, which is complicated and costly to remove, transport, and dispose of.
Also in the works are new wells to expand the company’s capacity and spread out the load, so that none of the Hillview wells are over-stressed. The new treatment plants and wells are expected to increase operational costs by $300,000 annually, an amount which includes four additional employees to operate and maintain the state-of-the-art facilities.
The proposed increase in Hillview’s water rate is approximately 35 percent, from a current rate of $3.261 to $4.420 per 100 cubic feet. Some customers could see an increase of over 50 percent in their monthly service charge for metered services, with the variation on percentage depending on the size of service.
“There are a number of factors that drive the magnitude of the request for a rate increase,” explains Moises Chavez, Regulatory Analyst, Division of Water and Audits.
“Rate increases tend to be a higher percentage amount for small water utilities the size of Hillview Water Company, since they have fewer customers to spread the incremental costs or increased expenses associated with its operation and/or utility plant investments.”
In the case of HWC, says Chavez, the increased operating expenses and utility plant investments are allocated among approximately 1,461 service connections. At the scheduled public meeting on Thursday, the company will explain reasons in support of its rate increase request, including a discussion of the company’s increased operating expenses.
The public was given a 20 day comment period in which to respond to the CPUC on whether or not Hillview’s proposed rate increase is reasonable and legitimate, given their balance between revenue and operational expenses. Following a recommendation from Chavez on the proposed Hillview rate increase, the public will have an additional time period to respond.
“I am still analyzing the company’s request and Operations and will be preparing a Draft Resolution with my recommendations once I complete my analysis and evaluation,” Chavez says. “The Draft Resolution will be issued for a 30 day comment period. I anticipate having the Draft Resolution issued for public comment to the company’s service list and the customers who attend the meeting, sometime in October.”
Once the Draft Resolution is issued for public comment, customers have approximately 22 days to comment on the recommendations, and the remaining 8 days will be for the Commission to review and address the comments for the final Resolution. Then, says the CPUC analyst, the Commission can take action.
During the Junction Fire and Courtney Fire, Hillview provided approximately 4 million gallons of water at no charge to Cal Fire to help with fire suppression, and more recently provided potable water to the Willow Fire crews, because no water system closer to the fire had available water.
Anyone with questions or concerns regarding the proposed rate increase is encouraged to attend the meeting on Thursday at YHS.