Budget Blog Series: Ensuring Quality Water And Sewer Service For The Long Term

By Melissa Stevenson Diaz,City Manager, City of Redwood City

An important aspect of the City’s service delivery is providing water and sewer services to the community. The City is responsible for ensuring safe quality water to our residents and maintaining the City’s sewer infrastructure. Later this June, the City Council will consider a number of budget and policy actions to ensure the City can continue to provide reliable high quality water and sewer services for the long term. Today’s blog provides details on these efforts.

WATER RESOURCES: URBAN WATER MANAGEMENT PLAN

The City is in the process of updating its Urban Water Management Plan (UWMP) which anticipates the community’s use of water through 2040. The draft Plan was released earlier this spring for public review and is scheduled to be discussed at the June 13, 2016 City Council meeting. The staff report and agenda for the June 13 City Council meeting will be available on Thursday, June 8 and can be found here.

In summary, the Plan evaluates potable and recycled water demands, and demonstrates that the City’s current water supply is sufficient to meet projected demands during normal conditions through 2040. Water demands in the UWMP are estimated as the sum of the future water demands associated with: (1) population and employment growth within the Redwood City service area, which are consistent with the City’s 2010 General Plan and (2) the planned development projects that are supplemental to the 2010 General Plan and will require a General Plan amendment. Projected new development within the Downtown Precise Plan and the General Plan represents 5.4% of the city’s overall anticipated water demand.

Water demand calculations in the UWMP utilize 2013 water usage as a baseline for projecting future water use, and do not reflect the reduced usage experienced during the current drought. This conservative approach was taken to ensure that the City’s water supply would be adequate, even if customer usage returned to pre-drought levels.

To review the Urban Management Plan details, find the draft document here.

WATER RESTRICTIONS

The State of California is still in a drought and while no mandatory State water use reductions will be required this year, our water supplier, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, is asking for voluntary reductions. As a result, the City of Redwood City is asking the community to continue to conserve water this summer.

In addition, many of the existing water use restrictions imposed last year will become permanent statewide. The City Council will review proposed water use restrictions at its meeting on June 27.

Proposed permanent water restrictions include:

  • No use of potable water to outdoor landscapes in a manner that causes runoff onto adjacent property, in public walkways, roadways, etc
  • No application of potable water to outdoor landscapes during and within 48 hours after it rains
  • No use of potable water through broken or defective plumbing and irrigation systems
  • No runoff of water from landscapes to non-irrigated areas
  • No application of potable water to driveways or sidewalks
  • No washing of vehicles without the use of an automatic shutoff nozzle
  • No potable water in fountains or decorative water features except where the water is recirculated

To view the June 27 City Council staff report and meeting agenda when it becomes available, click here. More details here on existing water restrictions.

RECYCLED WATER AND WATER CONSERVATION

By constructing a recycled water plant and continuing to broaden its recycled water distribution system, Redwood City is considerably limiting its usage of potable water. Redwood City is building and investing in the future of its water conservation efforts by expanding its recycled water pipeline to Downtown. Recycled water provides for 8% of Redwood City’s water usage thanks to these efforts, and this number could grow to over 10% as the City’s recycled water pipeline expands.

The recycled water expansion project through Downtown has begun. This means new and existing buildings will be able to tap into the recycled water pipeline and conserve water effortlessly and efficiently within the next three years! For Frequently Asked Questions about recycled water click here.

In response to the recent drought, the community has helped reduce water use by 29% between 2013 and 2015 and the City’s recycled water program is one aspect of the overall conservation efforts underway.

In addition to offering recycled water for free to residents within the water service area and for sale to commercial customers, the City provides a variety of different water conservation programs to help residents and businesses conserve.

City of Redwood City water conservation programs include:

  • Recycled Water program- Residents and commercial users in Redwood City can access a recycled water fill station allowing users to conserve significant water by using recycled water instead of potable water
  • Lawn Be Gone- The City offers a rebate program to replace residential lawns with water efficient plants
  • Free SMART home water-use house calls- Water conservation technicians make house calls within Redwood City limits
  • SMART home water conservation kits- The City offers kits that include everything residents need to make their homes “water smart”
  • My water program- The City provides an online water budgeting program customized for city residents and their specific water needs

For all of the City’s water conservation program details, click here. Helpful water conservation hints can be found here.

PROPOSED WATER AND SEWER RATE INCREASES

The City Council will review and discuss proposed water and sewer rate increases on June 13, 2016. The rate increases are driven by the need to fund the replacement of aging water and sewer infrastructure, and significantly increased wholesale water costs. Details about these rate changes are listed below.

Water Rates

Redwood City charges rates to its water customers to fund the cost of providing safe and reliable water service. Redwood City is proposing to phase in a series of water rate increases over the next three years. The proposed increases equate to an overall, average annual water rate increase of approximately 6.8% per year. Water rate increases are proposed to eliminate annual budget deficits, pay for significant rate increases from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) and to fund replacement of aging water system pipelines.

Wholesale Water Rates Increases– The City purchases 100% of its potable water supply from the SFPUC. The SFPUC is in the process of completing a $4.8 billion program of infrastructure upgrades and reliability enhancements to its regional water system. SFPUC has doubled its wholesale water rates over the past five years and is projected to raise rates by an additional 42% over the next five years.

Replacement of Aging Water Distribution System Pipelines– The City maintains over 260 miles of water system pipelines, many which are over 50 years old and are approaching the end of their useful lives. Rate increases will help provide funding for high-priority pipeline replacements and other capital improvements needed to support the continued provision of safe and reliable water service.

Each customer’s water charge includes two components: 1) a flat rate based on the type of customer and the customer’s meter size, and 2) a consumption charge based on metered water use. Most residential customers are billed on a bimonthly basis with each bill reflecting two months of basic service charges and two months of metered water use billed according to the bimonthly tiers shown on the following page. Most non-residential customers are billed on a monthly basis.

Sewer Rates

The City is proposing to phase in a series of sewer rate increases over the next three years. The proposed three-year increase equates to an overall, average annual sewer rate increase of 3.0% per year.

Redwood City charges rates to its sewer (wastewater) customers to fund the cost of providing safe and reliable sewer service. Redwood City owns and operates a wastewater collection system with roughly 200 miles of sewer pipelines and 31 pump stations. Wastewater is conveyed to a regional wastewater treatment plant operated by Silicon Valley Clean Water (SVCW) for treatment and effluent disposal.

Sewer rate increases are proposed to pay for increased costs including:

Rehabilitation & Reconstruction of Regional Wastewater Treatment Facilities– SVCW is in the process of completing a $790 million capital improvement program to rebuild and rehabilitate its regional wastewater treatment plant and approximately 8 miles of wastewater transmission pipelines, which are reaching the end of their operating lives. Redwood City is responsible for financing about 48.6% of total project costs; annual debt service payments are projected to increase substantially in upcoming years.

The improvements will help SVCW meet stringent environmental regulations and provide reliable service in future years.

Replacement of Aging Sewer Collection System Pipelines– Many of the City’s sewer pipelines are over 50 years old and are approaching the end of their useful lives. Rate increases will help provide funding for high-priority pipeline replacements and other capital improvements needed to support the continued provision of safe and reliable sewer service.

Impacts to sewer bills will vary based on customer class while impacts to commercial sewer bills will also vary based on volume of metered water use.

Residential customers are billed a fixed monthly charge for sewer service. Commercial customers will pay sewer usage charges billed based on customer class and metered water use, subject to a minimum monthly charge.

For Frequently Asked Questions about the proposed utility rate increases, click here.

WATER QUALITY

All of Redwood City’s drinking water comes from the San Francisco Regional Water System (SFRWS), which is maintained by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC).

Redwood City’s water system continues to be a model for lead abatement and includes corrosion control. There are no known lead service lines in Redwood City’s water system and the use of lead joints was discontinued in our distribution system. To read Redwood City’s FAQ about lead and water quality, click here. By contrast, the primary cause of the water quality concerns in Flint, Michigan appears to have been a failure to maintain corrosion control — a basic principle of water delivery (after disinfection/treatment).

The SFPUC’s Water Quality Division (WQD) regularly collects and tests water samples from reservoirs and designated sampling points throughout the system to ensure the water delivered to you meets or exceeds federal and state drinking water standards. In 2014, WQD staff conducted more than 52,000 drinking water tests in the transmission and distribution systems. This is in addition to the extensive treatment process control monitoring performed by the SFPUC’s certified operators and online instruments.

For Redwood City’s 2014 Annual Water Quality Report, click here. The 2015 report is expected to be released this summer.

JOIN THE CONVERSATION

City Council budget discussions are scheduled for June 13 and June 27 at their regularly scheduled City Council meetings beginning at 7 p.m. at City Hall.

To Join the Conversation and provide input into the proposed Fiscal Year 2016–2017 Operating and Capital budgets, visit here for details and share your thoughts!

PAST BUDGET BLOG SERIES ARTICLES

Click here for By the Numbers, a general introduction to the City of Redwood City’s budget.

Click here for a summary of Redwood City’s Transportation and Infrastructure Planning efforts.

Click here for a summary of Redwood City’s Affordable Housing efforts.

Click here for a summary of Redwood City’s Police and Fire Services

Click here for a summary of the Redwood City’s Communications and Community Engagement efforts.

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