TCP Well map - State

A state-provided map of water wells in the southern San Joaquin Valley that have varying amounts of the cancer-causing 1,2,3 trichloropropane, or TCP, above the maximum contamination level to be set by the state later in 2017. 

Courtesy of the California State Water Resources Control Board

Several Bakersfield residents have asked questions about 1,2,3 trichloropropane, or TCP, and its connection to city water rate increases. The rates were revealed at the city’s water board meeting Wednesday, but the three-phase increases will be presented to the full City Council at its 5:15 p.m. meeting July 19.

How much are city water rates going to increase?

The cumulative increase over the next two years would be 41 percent. Those proposed increases would be 16 percent in October, 13 percent July 2018 and 7.6 percent in July 2019.

The typical city water bill is $36.20 a month. This proposal would raise that bill to $50.89 in July 2019.

The City Council is expected to begin the process of increasing rates at its next regular meeting on July 19. The process would involve sending notices to more than 46,000 city water customers announcing the proposed increases after the council meeting. The City Council would accept public comments about the increases on Sept. 6 and follow with a vote on the new rates.

If approved, the proposed rates would go into effect starting Oct. 1. The council can modify the rates if something changes.

Why are my water rates going up?

City staff have proposed increasing water rates because the state is going to set new standards that lower the acceptable amount of TCP in drinking water to 5 parts per trillion (ppt).

The city owns 64 wells and 41 of those will be over the state limit when the standard becomes effective the beginning of next year. Not all of the wells that need treatment are active.

The cost of removing TCP is estimated at about $55 million, and the city will have to borrow to cover some of the costs. That amount does not include ongoing maintenance costs of the filtration equipment.

Ward 6 Councilwoman Jacquie Sullivan explained at the water board meeting that the city officials’ hands are tied.

“It’s not because we want to, but because we have to,” she said. “(The cost) will justify itself.”

The other city water board member, Councilman Ken Weir, mentioned that the problem is not unique to Bakersfield and the reason for the increases is residents’ health.

“I think they should be aware that we’re trying to protect their health and safety,” the councilman from Ward 3 said. “We have no other options.”

What is TCP?

TCP is a chemical compound that was used in pesticides sold by the Shell Oil and Dow Chemical companies in the 1970s and 1980s. TCP has been found in groundwater in California and across the country. The companies have since stopped using the compound.

The state classified TCP as cancer causing in 1992 to comply with Proposition 65.

Based on laboratory studies on animals, drinking water containing more than 5 ppt over many years may increase the likelihood of getting cancer.

What about California Water Co. customers?

Cal Water has said it will not release financial numbers due to the ongoing lawsuit it and the city have against Shell and Dow Chemical. The lawsuit was filed more than 10 years ago.

“We want to make the folks that caused this to pay the cost for cleaning it up,” Cal Water District Manager Mike Mares said. “That’s why we can’t share any numbers. Because we don’t want to jeopardize the litigation.”

What will happen to the money if the city wins the lawsuit against Dow and Shell?

City of Bakersfield Finance Director Nelson Smith explained the current proposed rates are the maximum amount city water rates can go up — meaning they could end up being less than 13 percent in July 2018 and 7.6 percent in July 2018.

“If the City receives proceeds from the current litigation,” Smith said in an email, “the future year rate increases may be reduced.”

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

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