Water Rates Structure
The City of Whittier is committed to maintaining critical infrastructure while efficiently providing safe, dependable water service in a cost effective manner to our residents and business customers.
Increased rates for water and recycled water services are necessary in order to cover rising costs from outside water regulatory agencies, as well as planned capital improvements to the water systems. The City’s former water rate structure was historically lopsided: a very small percentage of revenue was from the fixed service fee and the large majority was from variable consumption. This resulted in a number of issues, including a significant loss in revenues needed to keep pace with fixed maintenance costs, let alone making improvements to the system. Simply put, the City’s water revenues were not keeping up with the costs of overall service. It also meant that if a customer was very good at conserving, a behavior that should be encouraged, that customer’s rates were so low that other customers were subsidizing their share of the costs to maintain infrastructure.
The City has a Utility Authority, which is a separate financial system that operates the water system. The water fund is maintained separately because although city-wide resources have been invested in the water land and infrastructure over the last 60-100 years, the direct beneficiaries of the water system are only the Whittier water customers on the west side of town. The Whittier Utility Authority (WUA) was established to lease all of the City’s utility assets and operations. The assets leased by WUA belong to all residents of the City, but the services of the water system portion of WUA are generally only utilized by the residents on the west side of the City. WUA’s operations are accounted for separately and details of its financial transactions are presented separately in the WUA’s annual audit. Keeping the water costs separate ensures that general funds are not subsidizing the water system.
The Public Process for Setting Water Rates
In June of 2011, the City adopted an ordinance to adjust water service fees with an effective date of August 1, 2011. This followed a series of public announcements, direct mailers, published notices, a public hearing, media coverage, and posted information on the City’s website. The adjustment to the water rates increased service fees to cover budgeted expenditures and changed the water rate formula to reflect the actual fixed and variable costs, bringing the City in line with industry practice.
After a number of customers reported significant increases as a result of the new rates, City staff recommended that the City Council implement a gradual, phased increase in rates over a period of four years in order to help mitigate the impact. Since that time, the City Council has continued to evaluate the water rate structure regularly and taken a phased approach to making adjustments in order to provide the same level of service and make necessary repairs and improvements to our aging system.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are additional links that may be helpful in understanding the City’s water rates and services, as well as the most commonly asked questions staff receives pertaining to how water is managed. Staff will continue to update this page and share additional information regarding water rates and services over the coming months via our website and on social media.
Who monitors the City’s progress on projects and reviews proposed actions related to water?
Every project goes before the City Council a minimum of three times: Notice Inviting Bids, Award of Contract, and Notice of Completion. The City Council provides feedback and direction on all actions undertaken by staff through review of the City’s Work Plan. Additionally, the Whittier Utility Authority is also audited on a regular basis. The public is made aware of current projects through presentations like the State of the City Address, given annually by the Mayor and City Manager, and through the City’s website and social media channels. Annually, the City Council reviews the proposed budget and capital improvement program (CIP) at a publicly-agendized meeting, prior to the adoption of the budget.
We recognize that we can always do more to communicate better, which is why we’re creating this page. By combining information that might otherwise be found in multiple places, we hope to make information more transparent, more accessible, and easier to maintain. Customers may also notice additional details on their water bills, as well as information on Channel 3 and social media.
What is the Water Rate Study?In 2011, the water and sewer rate restructuring was set at 2011 costs, without an adjustment for increases in costs over time. The rate study will analyze costs to complete the necessary water and sewer improvements, as well as the resources necessary to address critical long-term project needs. The study will cover a 10-year study period for both water and sewer services and establish a cost recovery, financing, and rate plan for the next five years. It is anticipated that the study will be returned to Council before the end of January 2019.
Has the City pursued state or federal funding to support the infrastructure improvements instead of increasing rates?The types of grants available from the state and federal government will pay for such items as cleaning up contamination, decreasing reliability on imported water, or connecting rural systems to reliable sources. Grants are not available for general system maintenance and typical replacement projects. The City, through the Gateway Watershed Management Authority and Southeast Water Coalition, is working to receive grants, which would offset costs on projects of high importance such as emergency connections and our pipelines that run under the freeways. These types of projects are critical to the reliability of our system – especially in the event of an earthquake or similar disaster.
Has the City Council considered the impact that higher rates may have on residents with a fixed income?
Yes. This has been an ongoing challenge across most California public water utilities, and the City Council has been concerned about the impacts on low-income customers. In fact, when the water infrastructure projects were first beginning (in 2011), the economy was still in the midst of the Great Recession. Council opted to risk reducing the number of projects (even though the delay would mean higher costs in the long term) in order to provide temporary relief to acutely affected customers. In those years, water projects were delayed because of the reduced revenues. This is not a long-term solution, however, given the vast needs to repair and improve the water system.
There has been an interest in finding a way to subsidize bills for low-income customers. Currently Whittier water customers can avail themselves to a $6 Utility Users Tax Exemption. California’s Prop 26 requires that a public agency charge no more than the actual share of a service. Unlike a private utility, the City cannot include a profit margin or a “low-income” fund in its water rates.
Why do I have to pay a fixed service fee that benefits other people if I consume less water?Think of the fixed service fee as a “readiness to serve” charge. Everyone pays into keeping the water system operating effectively and safely, which guarantees that the water produced can be served to each person’s property. Conversely, if a customer is charged less than it actually costs to serve that water, other customers would be subsidizing the high-conservation customer, which is a violation of Prop 218.
Why have I seen different billing units in various examples of the water rate structure?
Average water usage fluctuates from year to year. In years past, 20 billing units per month was the amount used as an average for a typical water bill, when water consumption was much higher. The average customer’s use of water varies over time – it’s impacted by drought restrictions, changes to a customer’s plumbing systems, and the amount of rainfall (which directly affects the amount of landscape watering). Water usage can also differ based upon the size of the lot and amount of landscape area, as well as the size of a home and number of plumbing fixtures. For example, 14 units was the average usage per month for our ¾” meters during the peak drought season in 2016; by comparison, the average use for the 2017-18 year is 15.5 units per month for the same meter size. Because other agencies have different customer averages each year, they too will have different “typical bill” calculations.
Many have asked how the City of Whittier compares to other cities. For standard residential water service, the City of Whittier’s rates remain less expensive than many of our nearby providers. A breakdown of rates in neighboring cities and additional water related information is available on the City of Whittier’s Utility Fee Increase page (note: example is based on averages and does not reflect partner agencies' surcharges and other fees). When comparing water rates, please keep in mind that water agencies have different expenses such as infrastructure replacement spending, number of main breaks, and water supply costs.
These costs influence the rates that an agency must charge to provide service to its customers.
Does my water bill pay for employee salaries?Yes – for employees who work to support the water system. City staff members, including Water Operators, Specialists, Supervisors, Customer Service Representatives, and Engineers all work to maintain, operate, and replace the water system; they are essential to making sure our system is always “ready to serve.” Although your water bill does help fund these types of services, it does not contribute to any other special incentives not directly related to maintaining the water system as the City of Whittier does not offer bonuses to its employees.
Where does Whittier get its water from?We pump water from two local adjudicated ground water basins – the Main San Gabriel Basin (MB) and the Central Basin (CB). A series of court cases from the 1950s and 1960s decided how much water we are allowed to pump. The court cases also assigned a “WaterMaster” that annually establishes the “safe yields” of water extracted from the groundwater basins. In the CB the Water Replenishment District of Southern California (WRD) determines how much groundwater is needed to keep the CB groundwater supplies at safe levels; this is done by the Watermaster in the MB. If we do not receive adequate amounts of rainfall to keep up with pumping demands water is purchased for groundwater recharge from costly imported sources. All of these agencies charge for their services, which are included in the City's cost of water and, hence, in our water rates.
What does my water bill pay (and not pay) for?
Your Service Fee pays for all of the services required before any water is used – all of the pipes, wells, reservoirs, pumps, and treatment facilities, plus all of the services needed to keep the system functioning – repairing pipe leaks, exercising valves (so they remain operable), baseline electricity, security, water quality testing, labor , etc. All of these costs make up the majority of your water bill in the form of the service fee, which is based on the size or capacity of your meter (the cost to make water available). The commodity price is the price-per-billing unit (B.U. = 100 cubic feet or 748 gallons), which is tiered and varies by property type (see Resolution No. 8858). The commodity price covers water supply and delivery costs items such as increased electricity, chemical supply, and other agency charges.
What water projects are currently funded by the City?
Whittier has 138 miles of remaining pipeline in need of replacement and approximately $200M remaining in necessary improvements (excluding the $14.9M pumping plant completed in 2016 and 29,011 linear feet of pipeline already replaced). This number also includes eight wells, eight booster stations, one pumping plant, and 11 reservoirs (27M gallons of storage) that will need to be addressed. Here is a list of completed and upcoming projects (PDF).
The City is also undertaking a replacement of our sewer system as it is similarly aging as well. So, as we replace water lines we are also replacing our sewer lines. This is necessary as aging sewer lines are smaller in diameter and tend to clog more easily. We have completed a number of sewer replacement projects that have helped to reduce the incidents of Sanitary Sewer Overflows (SSOs). The Sewer Master Plan, approved in 2018, provides a number of projects to increase system efficiency. When coupled with the Sewer Spot Repair Program, which systematically replaces seven-foot segments of pipes in areas where there are blockages or pipe breaks, the City hopes to eliminate all Sanitary Sewer Overflows (SSOs). The year-to-year reduction in total SSOs is a testament to the program’s success. This year begins a five-year process to construct the projects recommended in the Sewer Master Plan that will increase system efficiency. Upon completion, the City will begin replacing sewer main in long segments as much of our system is reaching the end of its expected useful life.
Water Main Replacement Status
Water Main Replacement Costs
Replacement Status Chart (pdf) Replacement Cost Chart (pdf)
How does consumption and conservation affect my water payments?
Because of all of the infrastructure required to get water to our customers, the large majority of water charges go to fund system infrastructure, operations, and maintenance before a drop of water is used. The City pumps water from wells, treats it, and then sends it to our customers, sometimes through reservoirs and pumping stations, all of which is funded by the fixed service fee. The amount of water a customer uses is the “commodity” price – the remaining portion of the water bill. That cost is comprised of charges to produce and pump our water rights, as well as the cost to test and treat the water.
How does new development in the City of Whittier affect rates?Each new development project is evaluated at the planning stage to determine its impact on the City’s water system. If an impact is expected, the developer is required to mitigate the impact by upgrading existing pipelines and/or adding new pipes to service the development. Additionally, any new connection to the water system is required to pay a connection fee, which is used to upgrade the system within that project area. For example, a new townhome project with 30 - ¾” meters is currently required to pay $77,130.00 in connection fees, which in turn helps to pay for improvements to the existing water system.
Why have I seen brown water from time to time? How does the City test water quality?
Without knowing specific times and dates, it is hard to know the exact cause. Usually, brown water is seen when something stirs up an old system of piping. In general, brown water isn’t nice to look at but rarely poses a health threat. If you happen to experience brown water in your home, notify customer service at (562) 567-9530 and keep the water flowing from your hose bib until the water runs clear. Once clear, we also suggest running the water fixture located furthest from your meter (ex. upstairs shower) until the water runs clear.
The City of Whittier’s system maintenance includes preventative measures that consistently and systematically flush the water system. Additionally, there are 54 sampling stations installed throughout the water distribution system. Weekly water samples are taken from 15 different stations, as required by the State Water Board, to further ensure the best quality of water delivered to our customers. The City of Whittier publishes the Water Quality Report providing a summary of samples collected annually. View the most recent report online (spanish).
How do other cities compare?For standard residential water service, the City of Whittier’s rates remain less expensive than many of our nearby providers. A breakdown of rates in neighboring cities and additional water related information is available on the City of Whittier’s Utility Fee Increase page (note: example is based on averages and does not reflect partner agencies' surcharges and other fees).When comparing water rates please keep in mind that water agencies have different expenses such as infrastructure replacement spending, number of main breaks, water supply costs. These cost influence the rates that an agency must charge to provide service to its customers.