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Bob Dunning

Bob Dunning: Confused by the water plan? We’ve got all the answers

By From page A2 | January 13, 2013

There has been much discussion, some of it here, as to just how “confusing” the proposed Consumption Based Fixed Rate water billing structure the council plans to impose on the citizens of Davis truly is.

My friend Carol counts herself among the confused. She is not alone. In a random poll of 15 intelligent Davisites (redundancy mine) — including several who are ardently pushing the CBFR — I couldn’t find a single person who could accurately determine the monthly water bill for an “average” Davis family using 15 ccf per month.

Writes Carol: “It is all well and good reading how the City Council finally figured out just what rates were the best for all of us, but I still would like to see in print just how the rates will work. You and The Enterprise write about the rates, but for me it is still confusing and I am sure it will be for other seniors. I watched the City Council the other night, and that was a confused bunch.”

Carol, I feel your pain and I am at your service. While others spent the last few weeks hanging wreaths, lighting candles and decking halls, I was enrolled in a highly intensive “CBFR Immersion” course and just last week was awarded a Ph.D. in Clinical Cbfrology. I can now confidently answer all your questions.

First, no matter what plan the city ultimately selects, you will soon be billed monthly instead of every other month. The city says this is to help folks like you better plan your monthly budget. I say it’s to reduce the sticker shock of a $200 bill six times a year to a $100 bill 12 times a year. For many folks, $200 feels like a slap in the face, but $100 is more of a nuisance. That’s what the city’s after as it tries to sell this plan to the public.

For the first couple of years of the city’s five-year water rate plan, the city will be employing something called the “Bartle Wells Traditional Rate Structure,” not to be confused with Bartles & Jaymes, which is what you’re likely to be drinking after seeing your first water bill.

Being more traditional and therefore easier to understand, I sought only a master’s degree in Bartle Wells, which should again be sufficient to answer all of your questions.

After two years, or perhaps three, the city will switch from Bartle Wells to the CBFR, the thinking being that citizens in the Second Most Educated City in America will need that much time to fully understand the water bill that arrives in their mailbox and adjust their consumption habits accordingly.

Bartle Wells has two components, a “fixed rate” and a variable “consumption charge.” Pretty much every homeowner in town will pay the same fixed rate of $18.83 beginning on May 1, less than four months down the road. You will then be billed a variable rate of $1.34 per ccf whether you’re using the water to take a shower, brush your teeth or water the petunias.

If you use the Davis average of 15 ccf in any one month, your variable charge will be $20.10 ($1.34 times 15). Add the fixed charge to the variable and you come up with $38.93. If you use 20 ccf in the summer or only 10 ccf in the winter, your rate will vary accordingly.

Both the fixed and variable components will spike considerably in the following years.

The CBFR, which will kick in either on Jan. 1, 2015 or Jan. 1, 2016, has three components, two of which are fixed for a full year and one that will vary from month to month.

In 2015 under the CBFR, the fixed rate will be $11.10 per month. The second charge is the one that has created the most confusion for many folks, but it will easily make up the major portion of your bill.

If the CBFR starts on Jan. 1, 2015, you will have to go back to the summer of 2014 to determine your rate, with the word “summer” used loosely since it encompasses parts of three seasons from May 1 through Oct. 31 for a total of six full months.

The water you use during this time period is added together, not averaged, to give you a grand total come Oct. 31. Again, it is critically important to realize this is a total, not an average.

Given that most folks use substantially more water in summer than in winter because of outdoor needs, a family that averages 15 ccf year round is likely to use at least 20 ccf in the summer — perhaps more — and 10 or fewer ccf in the winter.

Just for the sake of argument, let’s say you use 20 ccf per month in May, June, July, August, September and October for a total of 120 ccf. In 2015, that number will be multiplied by 35 cents per ccf for a total of $42. Even though your usage may vary from summer to summer, that $42 — along with the $11.10 — will now become your fixed rate for an entire year, running from Jan. 1, 2015 through Dec. 31, 2015.

And yes, that means the water you use in May 2014 will help to determine your fixed charges through Dec. 31, 2015, fully 20 months away. In other words, if you use too much water in the summer of 2014, you won’t be able to chase that rate away for a long, long time, no matter how much you conserve in the interim. Fixed means fixed. You’ll be paying for your summer consumption even in the winter months. Even if you spend those winter months in Palm Springs and use absolutely no Davis water at all.

But wait, there is yet another charge associated with the CBFR and it varies from month to month depending on your water usage. In 2015, that rate is 93.5 cents per ccf and it gets added to the other two components to determine your monthly bill.

So let’s say you used 120 ccf in the summer of 2014 and it’s now July 2015 and you again use 20 ccf that month (times 93.5 cents) for a July variable bill of $18.70.

You now add the fixed rate of $11.10 to your 2014 summer fixed rate of $42 to your July 2015 monthly variable rate of $18.70 for a total of $71.80.

And, like the Bartle Wells plan, the CBFR rates spike considerably over the final three years of the five-year plan, sending that $71.80 bill to $118.74 in year five.

Under our current rate structure, using identical comparisons (20 ccf in summer, 10 ccf in winter), the monthly summer bill would be $42.30, dropping to $26.50 in winter.

If you’re still with me, Carol, the choice is yours.

— Reach Bob Dunning at [email protected]

Bob Dunning

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