“This is unprecedented for us,” City Manager Alan Tandy said. “But it is exclusively because of the (TCP) regulations.”

It’s going to cost the City of Bakersfield $55 million to remove a cancer-causing agent from its water supply, and ratepayers will be footing the bill with an increase of more than 40 percent over two years.

That was the bad news delivered by Bakersfield city staff at a municipal water board meeting Wednesday.

The stiff hike didn’t come as a complete surprise: City Council members had been facing the likelihood of increased water rates for months.

The state water control board is expected to approve a new standard for acceptable levels of the cancer-causing agent, 1,2,3-Trichloropropane or TCP, in drinking water in the coming weeks. This gives the city six months to reduce the TCP that’s been detected in 64 percent of its wells.

The three-phase city water rate increase will be formally presented to the full City Council during its regular meeting on July 19. But city water resources staff members gave the three-member city water board an early look at the proposed increases Wednesday.

“This is unprecedented for us,” City Manager Alan Tandy said. “But it is exclusively because of the (TCP) regulations.”

City staff, with the help of an outside consultant, estimate it will cost $55 million to remove TCP from the city’s wells. The multimillion-dollar bill will cover just construction and does not include ongoing maintenance costs.

So the staff is proposing to increase city water customers’ rates by 16 percent this year, 13 percent the following year and 7.6 percent in 2019 — a cumulative total of 41 percent.

The typical city water customer’s monthly bill is $36.20. The proposed city water rates would increase the typical bill to $50.89 by July 2019.

Council members have tried to keep water rates down the last five years. But the city has no choice with the state increasing regulations on TCP in drinking water, staff said.

“It’s not because we want to, but because we have to,” Ward 6 Councilwoman Jacquie Sullivan said. “(The cost) will justify itself.”

Ward 3 City Councilman Ken Weir added that the City of Bakersfield is not the only water district dealing with removing TCP.

Both the city and California Water Company have been involved in a lawsuit with Dow Chemical Co. for at least 10 years over the cost of removing TCP from groundwater. The Dow and Shell companies put TCP in pesticides they sold in the 1970s and 1980s.

Citing the lawsuit, Cal Water’s Bakersfield district manager, Mike Mares, said he could not reveal the financial impact of TCP mitigation.

“We want to make the folks that caused this ... pay the cost for cleaning it up,” Mares said. “Our end goal is to have a zero rate increase.”

“That’s why we can’t share any numbers,” he said. “Because we don’t want to jeopardize the litigation.”

Dorothy Mills-Gregg can be reached at (661) 395-7368. Follow her on Twitter via @TBCCityBeat.

(3) comments

Shwaine

Thank you for updating the article to take out the erroneous 36.6% cumulative total. One more suggestion: "nearly 40 percent" in the title and first paragraph can be easily misread as "less than 40 percent", so you might consider updating that as well.

Shwaine

Not to be pedantic, but math errors in this article are undercutting the effects of the increase. You don't add percentages to get the cumulative total. The 13% increase is on top of the 16% increase, and the 7.6% is on top of both prior increases. Adding the percentages forgets this compounding effect. If you start with a balance of $10, it's $11.60 after the first increase, $13.11 after the second increase, and $14.10 after the third increase. So the actual cumulative total is 41%.

Using the same calculations, the typical $36.20 bill will actually rise to $51.05 ($51.04 if one rounds down at each step), not $50.89. Quibbling over pennies might seem silly, but multiply by the number of households in the district and pennies quickly become major dollars. I would hope these math mistakes were made by a reporter, not by the people responsible for calculating the budget to present to the city council next week.

Bayesian

“We want to make the folks that caused this ... pay the cost for cleaning it up,” Mares said. “Our end goal is to have a zero rate increase.”

So if the rate increase is going towards resolving the problem, are we paying for the lawsuit or the actual fix to remove the contamination? And once the lawsuit is "won" are the rate payers getting their 40% rate increase refunded or are we going to get free water for awhile?

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