Water just got more expensive for many San Diego homeowners.

Here’s your guide to this year’s water rate hike, and how you might expect your bills to change.

In November, the City Council approved an average of an overall 7.25 percent rate increase on residential customers’ bills for 2014. They’re due to see a 7.5 percent hike come 2015.

City leaders said the increase was essential to cope with year-over-year rate hikes by the Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which provides almost half of San Diego County’s water supply through the San Diego County Water Authority.

How Billing Works

City meter readers check a given homeowner’s water rate usage every other month – measured in hundred cubic feet – and the city bills for those two months of consumption.

All customers pay both base and usage fees.

Homeowners will actually see base fees decrease in 2014 despite an overall water bill hike for most San Diegans.

The city relies on a tier system to determine the usage rates to charge customers. For years, the city’s water workers operated on a three-tier system and charged homeowners progressively higher amounts as they used more water.

The rate increase approved in November incorporated a fourth tier. The effect is that San Diegans who use more water pay substantially more than residents who consume less. City officials hope this will encourage heavy users to cut back and fall into a lower, less-expensive tier.

Under the new system, most homeowners who use up to 8 HCF every two months pay the lowest rates. The price of water increases steadily until use hits at least 37 HCF in a two-month period. The latter is considered the fourth tier.

Here’s a breakdown of the city’s water users and where they fall using the tier system.


New Water Rate Usage Tiers

How the Rate Hike Will Affect Your Bill

A couple Voice of San Diego readers were kind enough to share their bills so we could assess how they’d be affected by the rate increase. They’re billed every other month, so the projections detailed here are calculated the same way.

Both reader volunteers fall into the second tier under the new system, which is the most common among homeowners in the city.

We’ll start with the smaller of the two.

Reader 1's Water Bill

As you can see, this family of five used 12 HCF of water over two months in late 2013. This previously placed the family in the city’s lowest usage tier and she was charged a rate of $3.61. In this bill, she paid $82 in water charges.

Post-rate increase, her family will fall into the second tier. They’ll pay a rate of $3.64 for the first 8 HCF and $4.08 for the remaining 4 HCF. Their base fee will now be $18.89.

Her new bill total would be $83.22. That’s just $1.22 more than she previously paid, or $7.32 more for this year.

The second reader who submitted a water bill has a pool and a Jacuzzi and uses a bit more water. He lives with his wife and infant son.

Reader 2's Water Bill

A recent meter reading showed he used 19 HCF of water, which previously placed him in the city’s first and second tiers, for a total of $108.82.

Like the previous homeowner, the new system means he’ll fall into the second tier though he’ll pay the lower rate for the first 8 HCF of water.

His new bill would be $111.78, or $2.96 more than he previously paid. This would amount to $17.76 more in 2014.

Both these water users are pretty middle-of-the-line. What will the rate increase look like for a heavy water user?

Let’s assume Susie Q. San Diegan and her family use 40 HCF every two months, which places her in the top tier under the city’s previous and current water rate systems.

In 2013, this would’ve meant a $196.84 bill. In the New Year, it’ll mean a $234.78 bill.

Similar water consumption throughout the year would mean nearly $230 in additional water charges for Susie in 2014.

Indeed, heavy water users will feel the water rate increase the most – and the city intends for it to work that way.

“They’re being accurately charged for the service they’re going to receive,” said Brent Eidson, a deputy director in the city’s public utilities department. “They’re using more of the product so they would need to pay more to receive the product.”

The system is now set up to reward residents who consume less water. The city does this by assuming  H20 in the lower tiers comes from local reservoirs, which makes it far less expensive than water transported from outside San Diego.

Say John Smith uses 6 HCF over two months, putting him in the first tier.

This meant a $60.34 charge under the 2013 system. The same usage in 2014 would mean a slightly smaller bill for Smith. He’d pay $59.62 instead, about $4.30 less over a year, assuming his water use remains steady.

To calculate the exact charges you might expect, check out the city’s water rate calculator, which estimates changes to your bill by month rather than in the two-month increments we used here. Multiply by two to calculate your exact bill.

Lisa Halverstadt

Lisa is a senior investigative reporter who digs into some of San Diego's biggest challenges including homelessness, city real estate debacles, the region's...

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