Montara Water Rate Hikes Unfair to Families


Posted by on Mon, October 11, 2010

Ah, it’s that time of the year on the coastside, Pumpkin Festival, Parcel Taxes and MWSD rate hikes. If you live in Montara and Moss Beach and you are not on a well, you should have received a notice from Montara Sanitary District dated Sept 10, 2010 with the proposed new maximum rate increase for your drinking water along with a schedule of both the current and proposed fees and charges. If these changes go through families in the water district will be unfairly affected by the proposed changes. I have written the District Board and I appeared at their regularly scheduled meeting this month to try to understand how they decided on the model they proposed but as yet have not been given an adequate explanation. Time is running out for rate payers to protest this change. We have until November 4, 2010 to respond (details at the end of this letter).

Why are the proposed rates unfair to families?

In looking over the information in the notice two things struck me as being inconsistent with the MWSD stated goal to “encourage further water conservation practices”.

First, since water consumption is measured by connection and not by person, it is easy to see how a single person or couple living in a home would have a better advantage with the new rates than a family with children. They would take less baths, less laundries and less flushes by connection, but not necessarily be conserving more water per person. There is no way to tell with the current metering system.

This brings me to my second observation. In changing consumption from a two tier system to a four tier system and discounting lower brackets while penalizing higher brackets on a connection based system may be fair from a raw usage point of view except for the way they choose the brackets. In the old two tier system anything less than 19 HCF was charged one rate while anything over 19 HCF was charged a higher rate. But with the 4 tier system with the two lower brackets each being 7 HCF and the third bracket be 14 HCF, it will again punish families who will now enter the third tier more quickly than under the old system and have to pay a penalty for the excess water consumed.

It would seem to me that the larger bracket (14 HCF) should be Tier 2 where a majority of the rate payers fall and where the median (11 CCF) and average (13 CCF) consumers fall. Or simply make all the tiers 9 HCF which would be closer to the previous system with a small incentive to the middle tier to conserve. I am sure there are other ways to adjust these tiers which would impact all demographics fairly but time does not let me explore those here. 

What can you do?

I know the fact that the MWSD data is skewed positive has probably caused some of the inequities in their proposal and it needs to be addressed but not on the backs of families whose budgets are already stretched in this current economic climate. I urge everyone who is a water customer of MWSD to protest these changes. A majority of the parcels need to protest these changes to prevent the current proposal from becoming effective. Written protest against the proposed fees must include identification of the property by assessor parcel number or address. Send your protest to:


District Board
Montara Water and Sanitary District
P.O. Box 370131
Montara, CA 94037

This brings me back to my opening line about this time of year. Most of you probably received your parcel tax bill for 2010-2011 where you can find your parcel number in the upper right corner. And this weekend being Pumpkin Festival with many of us trapped in our homes for the weekend makes for an opportune time to write a protest to the MWSD.

Also, I urge you to attend the public hearing on this matter and voice your concerns:

Date:      November 4, 2010
Time:      7:30 p.m.
Where:  Boardroom
      Montara Water and Sanitary District Administrative Offices
8888 Cabrillo Highway
Montara, Ca 94037
(Adjacent to the Pt. Montara Lighthouse & Hostel

Comment 1
Mon, October 11, 2010 2:45pm
Barry Parr
All my comments

Is it possible (or fair) to base the rate on the number of people in a household?

I’m confused by your second observation, and I’ll bet I’m not the only one.  It might be a good idea to lay out the proposed changes and your proposed alternative a little more clearly.

I suggest your discussion about water rates needs to be illustrated with some graphs.

I was upset about El Granada water rates and I found it helped me a great deal to see the simple lines of a graph.

Here is an Excel type spreadsheet that I developed for viewing water rates. The graph may not work on your computer because I used the Free program gnumeric but the table should work and you will see on line 1 easy values you can change to fit your situation.

One of the things you can see from a spreadsheet that lists out water used and water bill amounts is just how much your water bill will go up.

Another sad thing you can also see with a spreadsheet is “gray water recycling” projects do not pay off readily. Suppose your washing machine gray water trap catches 1 HCF per month. How much does your water bill go down?

Comment 3
Mon, October 11, 2010 7:45pm
Bill Kehoe
All my comments

Barry you are not the first one to bring up the fairness of basing the charge on the number of people per household. So stating the reason for the proposed new rate tiers is to help promote conservation seems a little absurd. People can conserve by limiting their individual consumption but the metrics are currently based only on the connection which then makes it impossible to see who is conserving and who is not (this by the way answers your question “is it possible” to determine per person usage with the answer being “no”).

And that is my point. We have a fee system which rewards Tier 1, a low consumption connection (0 – 6 HCF) with a -25% charge, Tier 2, a mid consumption connection (7 – 13 HCF) an average consumption connection with an “average water rate” charge, Tier 3, a higher consumption connection (14 – 27 HCF) is charged +25% and Tier 4, the highest consumption connection (> 27 HCF) is charged +75% more than Tier 2. Under the old system there were only 2 Tiers, Tier 1 (0 -19 HCF) @ $5.24/HCF and Tier 2 (20> HCF) @ 7.293 which was approximately a 40% penalty.

So with no way to determine per person usage a single person who for argument sake uses 6 HCF per billing cycle could waste another 6 HCFs per billing cycle and still pay less penalties than a family of 4 who are frugal with their usage and reduce their consumption from 24 HCFs to 18 HCFs. The rate comparison is made more complicated because the MWSD is also changing the ratio of water sales and service (meter) charge from a 50% - 50% model to a 70% -30% model which makes a simple rate table or graph more difficult.

I didn’t include this in my original post because all the rate payers received a two page explanation of the two systems and instruction on how to estimate their new bill. I did however include such a table in my first letter to the MWSD Board which I sent to them a few weeks ago but I thought it might be too confusing to people to explain here. I also read the rate analysis document prepared for MWSD by their consultants and I could not find information to help me understand this problem

I can say for my family, two adults and two teenagers, I would see a 32% increase and I don’t know if our usage is average for a family of four or not which is what caused me to question this proposal in the first place.

I don’t think our water and sewer system should be in the business of incentivizing social policy, whether it is how many children families have, a house is being over occupied by unrelated adults, a retired couple reduces their carbon footprint by growing their own vegetables, a resident has OCD and is double flusher and compulsive hand washer, a golfer’s passion for his personal practice putting green or a teenager’s daily ritual of washing the mud off his over sized truck, after tearing up open space.

We all know the history, rapacious corporate interests neglected the private water system and the customers in Montara and Moss Beach.  Now, we all bear the ownership and costs of that system and history.  We also have to be realistic about our collective inability to come to a consensus on the needs of others in our community.  We haven’t really achieved, to quote Marx, “a higher phase of communist society”  where, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!”. 

Taking my tongue out of my cheek, I certainly wouldn’t want to be the arbiter of what is “fair” in this community.

I’d like to hear someone propose some rate structure which encourages conservation without someone else complaining that it’s unfair.  I don’t think that such a structure is possible.  Vince may be correct, in which case the only solution would be to have a meter charge based on connection size, plus a straight line rate for consumption.

To have the tier allocations based on people per household, how would the District determine the number of people per household?  Ask?  Yeah, that’ll really get honest answers.  Census data?  Unavailable for such purposes.  So this might be nice in theory but it can’t actually be implemented.

Having just given CCWD a $14K check to become a customer, I have a totally different concern.  During shortage years, mandatory percentage cutbacks penalize those who have traditionally been frugal with water use, providing a disincentive for conservation during better times.

There are things in life for which we just need to recognize that there’s no perfect solution and sometimes not even a good solution.  I think our local decision-makers (and yes, I’m one of them at GSD, a sister agency to MWSD) do the best we can for the most people while trying to minimize negative impacts on the minority.  I’m still hoping to get GSD off of the flat-rate structure, where every residential customer pays the same annual sewer service charge regardless of usage.  Anybody think that’s fair?

Comment 6
Thu, October 14, 2010 9:24pm
Barry Parr
All my comments

Water’s a funny thing to price. Without it, your home is worthless, but we get agitated about price increases in fractions of a penny per gallon.

Ideally, our water prices should encourage conservation while supporting maintenance and development of our supply.

My guess is that we’re relatively heavy users in our household.  I’d be comfortable with higher rates per gallon at higher volumes because heavy users place more demand on the system and probably have more opportunities to conserve.

MWSD is lucky to have have its own water supply, without depending on importing water from the Sierra via SFPUC. That (Hetch Hetchy) supply is risky and potentially ruinous. I want to see us use our own supply sustainably.

The 227 homes at Pillar Ridge are part of the district.  Though a well water plant was built here 20 years ago, we still depend on MWSD for backup when our system is down, and would really prefer to turn the whole thing over to MWSD.  With our one 4-inch meter connection for the whole neighborhood, the new highest punitive rate would be charged for virtually all our MWSD water.  Thus a water-conserving Pillar Ridge family using only 6 units/mo would run up a $106/mo water bill ($104.10 volume + their share of the 4-inch meter charge), whereas the rest of the families in Montara/Moss Beach would only pay $70 ($44.58 volume +$25.59 meter) for the same amount of water.