By Don Zdeba
The Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority (“Authority”) has taken actions recently with regards to fees that will affect customers of the Indian Wells Valley Water District (“District”). These are pass-through fees implemented by the Authority. Though they will appear on your water bill, the money collected goes to the Authority and not the District. It is my intent to provide context for how these fees will translate to your bill from the District.
The first fee to discuss is a fee that is already in place but will increase effective this month. The Groundwater Extraction Fee was adopted by Ordinance 02-18 July 19, 2018 for the purpose of paying for development of the Groundwater Sustainability Plan (“GSP”) required by the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (“SGMA”) of 2014. Initially, the fee was set at $30 per acre-foot of water pumped. For District customers, the fee translated to $0.07 per hundred cubic foot (“HCF”) of use. (1 HCF = 748 gallons) As a result of this fee, some of those non-de minimis pumpers required to pay the fee reduced their pumping thereby reducing revenue for the Authority. This, along with additional tasks not originally identified to be part of the GSP, resulted in the shortfall that caused the Authority to take action July 16, 2020 and adopt Ordinance 02-20 increasing the fee from $30 to $105 per acre-foot. This increase is expected to be in place for 18 months to collect the approximate $1.5M required to pay for the GSP submitted to the Department of Water Resources January 31, 2020. District customers will see an increase from $0.07 to $0.24 per HCF on their bill this month. Using recent consumption data, for the average District residential customer, defined as having the standard ¾” meter and within our A-Zone where the majority of customers are located, the impact of the increase will amount to a total of about $60.70 over the 18 months the fee is projected to last, about $3.37 per month. This is based on an average consumption of 14 HCF per month over 18 months, though the actual consumption does vary seasonally.
The other fee to discuss is the Basin Replenishment Fee adopted by the Authority August 21, 2020 by way of Ordinance 03-20. This fee was based on the Engineer’s Report published by Stetson Engineers, the Water Resources Manager, June 18, 2020. This fee, as drafted, applies only to customers of the District and to Searles Valley Minerals. According to the report, these two non-de minimis pumpers are pumping in excess of the established average annual recharge of 7,650 acre-feet and are therefore required to acquire imported water supplies of 5,000 acre-feet to fully meet their needs. For the District, the portion of that 5,000 acre-feet needed is 2,117 acre-feet. The Replenishment Fee was set at $2,130 per acre-foot; $2,112 to purchase State Table A water and $17.50 to provide funds for shallow well mitigation (well damage due to declining water levels). The fee is intended to collect $52,800,000 over a five-year period. As adopted, the fee is scheduled to be implemented January 1, 2021. Using the data from the Engineer’s Report, the impact of this fee on the average District residential customer, as previously defined, translates to an estimate $1.85 per HCF. Again, using recent consumption data, over one year, the average District residential customer averages 13.1 HCF per month. The annual increase, based on this monthly average consumption, is estimated to be just under $300; about $25 per month.
These numbers are being provided only as a general idea of the impact on our residential customers. To assist you with getting a more accurate sense of how these fees will impact you personally, we have updated the Bill Calculator feature on our website, www.iwvwd.com. Simply click on the “Bill Calculator “ button located on the right side of the home page. Once there, make sure “Residential” is checked appropriately, then check the appropriate meter size and zone. These are located on your bill, but generally would be ¾” meter and A-zone for most residential customers. Finally, enter the amount of water you consume in a month in HCF and click on “Calculate”. You will be able to see what your current bill is and what the effect of both fees will be. When these fees are in effect, you will see the total amount of both as a single line item on your bill. Due to spacing limitations on the paper bill, we are unable to break out the two fees.
We understand these fees will result in a significant increase to customers. This is not unique to our basin. Nationwide, the trend is for water bills to increase. One study found that between 2010 and 2018 water bills rose by at least 27% and over 80% during this same period in 12 major U.S. cities. I do want to emphasize once again these fees are pass-throughs to the Authority and the monies collected are not part of the District’s revenue. I also want to assure you the District Board and staff continue to explore opportunities to keep expenses down despite rising costs. As always, we are available by phone at (760)375-5086 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org to assist our customers and answer questions or concerns.