Story Corps

Placeholder Image Lake Sonoma water levels rebound after steady 2023 rains
photo credit: Noah Abrams/KRCB

The Bay Area may be officially out of drought after recent rains filled up reservoirs, but they haven’t washed away fiscal issues water agencies have around the Bay, including Sonoma Water.

Half full reservoirs captured the public's attention in recent years, but water and the lack of it, isn’t the only challenge facing water managers.

Even as the Bay Area exits drought, water use isn't expected to sky rocket.

It's left utilities in a tough spot; people are saving so much water, it's cutting into the money left for upkeep.

"Our rates are fully volumetric and that means all else being equal," Jake Spaulding said. "If we're budgeting with lower deliveries, rates are going to increase and vice versa."

Jake Spaulding is finance manager of Sonoma Water.

"We are operating a system that is, you know, roughly 45 to 65 years old," Spaulding said. "It's expended much of its useful life and you know, currently actually 40% of our infrastructure has only 10 to 20% of its useful life remaining."

"Not too different than owning an aging car, maintenance costs do increase with age," Spaulding said.

The result: Sonoma Water is proposing a more than 10% hike in the price of water - for the cities which buy from them.

That would push the cost of an acre foot for Santa Rosa to nearly twelve hundred dollars.

While less than some Bay Area agencies, it's twice what irrigation districts were paying during the worst of the drought.

Any increase must be approved by Sonoma Water’s Board of Directors, and Santa Rosa has been opposing it, even though city residents won’t see higher bills immediately.

Santa Rosa Water’s Nick Harvey said a contract bars any additional bump for another two years.

Even with the city’s official opposition to the increases, Sonoma Water says the rate hikes, which could be as low as two to three more dollars per month, are required to assure water remains available around the clock.

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