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.
This water bill calculator uses Proposed Fiscal Year 2019-20 rates effective August 1, 2019 and can be used to estimate water charges based on the proposed rates. Charges are based on customer type, meter size and bi-monthly water usage. Input your bi-monthly water usage and the calculator will show you how the proposed changes will affect your bi-monthly bill. Water rate schedules can be found in Fees for Water Service FY 2019-20 through 2023-24.
The Public Process for Setting Water Rates
In order to adopt the proposed water rates, a Notice of Public Hearing to consider proposed adjustments to the water rates is to be mailed, 45 days in advance of a Public Hearing to the record owner of each identified parcel, which may be affected by the proposed rate adjustments as required by law. Notifications will be mailed to all Whittier property owner listed in the County Tax Assessor’s database and tenants who directly pay for their water bills. Any property owner or tenant directly responsible for the payment of these fees may submit a written protest to the proposed rate changes; however, only one protest will be counted per identified parcel. In addition, the notice is to be published in the Whittier Daily News and made publicly available through various other City outlets including the Library, Community Center, Senior Centers, Public Works counter in the City Hall and website. At the public hearing, the City Council is required to consider all protests against the proposed fees. However, the City Council is bound only by those written protests submitted by the close of the Public Hearing by a majority of the total number of affected owners.
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 rate restructuring was set at 2011 costs, without an adjustment for increases in costs over time. In 2018, the City retained Stantec consulting firm to conduct a comprehensive Cost of Service/ Water Rate Study to ensure that the rates and charges are in alignment with the cost of providing service and are equitable among the customer classes. The Study evaluated the impact of the increased costs, both capital and ongoing operations and maintenance, on the revenue requirements over the next 10 years. It also examined the cost of service implications from the projected revenue requirements and established the rate plan needed for fiscal year 2019-20 through 2023-24 to generate revenue to meet the operating demands of the water systems.
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 on identifying grant opportunities 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.
Low income, single-family residential customers may be eligible for a $6 per month water discount. 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.
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 water bill consists of two components: a service fee, which is a fixed amount, based on your meter size and your customer class (single family residential, multifamily residential, non-residential and landscape); and a usage rate or commodity rate, which is based on the amount of water you use. An estimate of 75% of water system expenses are fixed. Whether or not a customer uses water or not, these costs must be paid. The fixed costs include labor to operate and maintain the water system, infrastructure rehabilitation and replacement (pipes, pumps, reservoirs and wells), water quality testing, regulatory compliance reporting, electricity, insurance, debt service and security. The current rate schedule recovers approximately 58% of rate revenue through the fixed service fee. The 2019 proposed rate structure will modestly reduce the revenue collected from the fixed service charge to approximately 52% and allow you to have greater control over the cost of your bill.
What water projects are currently funded by the City?
Whittier has a number of assets, including 143 miles of water mains, 11 reservoirs (with 23 million gallons of storage), 6 booster stations, 8 wells, and a new Pumping Plant. All of these assets have a useful life, with over 75% of Whittier's assets aged beyond their useful life. The replacement costs of the water mains alone is estimated at over $200 million. Since 2011, the City of Whittier has completed approximately $26.5 million of infrastructure rehabilitation and replacement, which includes the new Pumping Plant, well rehabilitation, booster pump station electrical upgrade and 34,466 linear feet of new water pipeline. Over the next 10 years, the City's Water Master Plan has identified 113,611 linear feet of water main to be replaced for a total of $31.2 million along with $26.9 million in additional improvements to water system assets. This list shows the completed and upcoming water main projects through 2028.
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.
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. 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. To provide perspective on how Whittier's rates compare with neighboring communities, a bill comparison survey was developed.
Why are rates set so far into the future?A multi-year structure precludes the need to revisit the Proposition 218 process more frequently, reduces administrative costs, and allows our customers to plan for future costs more accurately.