Government / Politics

Water and sewage rates in San Juan Bautista may rise more than predicted

Study cites COVID-driven labor shortages and increased costs of materials.
Proposed rates. Courtesy of the City of San Juan Bautista.
Proposed rates. Courtesy of the City of San Juan Bautista.
Total cost estimates. Courtesy of the City of San Juan Bautista.
Total cost estimates. Courtesy of the City of San Juan Bautista.
The first section of pipe from San Juan Bautista. Courtesy of the City of San Juan Bautista.
The first section of pipe from San Juan Bautista. Courtesy of the City of San Juan Bautista.
The second section of pipe from San Juan Bautista. Courtesy of the City of San Juan Bautista.
The second section of pipe from San Juan Bautista. Courtesy of the City of San Juan Bautista.
From left: Council members John freeman and Scott Freels, and Mayor Leslie Jordan. Photo by Katie Moorer.
From left: Council members John freeman and Scott Freels, and Mayor Leslie Jordan. Photo by Katie Moorer.
A resident reading through the information provided by the city. Photo by Katie Moorer.
A resident reading through the information provided by the city. Photo by Katie Moorer.

Water and sewage rates in San Juan Bautista may be going up dramatically as the city moves forward in its search for solutions to its ongoing water quality problems. Monthly sewer rates are set to increase from the current $83.61 per household to $95.62 in 2022. Proposed increases over the next four years may bring the rate to $148.75.

The rates were the focus of a town hall meeting held by the San Juan Bautista City Council at Luck Library on Nov. 30. 

In June 2019, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Regional Water Quality Board ordered San Juan Bautista to find a solution to the problem of pollution discharged from its wastewater treatment facility and pay over $820,000 in fines. The city still incurs an additional $12,000 a year in fines from the antiquated plant.

Having considered improving the plant, the City Council moved instead to commission a plan to pipe the wastewater to the Hollister Wastewater Treatment center. The initial project cost estimate, as determined by Stantec Engineering Services, was released in February and totaled $15.1 million.  

Citing changes in the general construction cost index as determined by the Engineering News Record, Stantec submitted a preliminary design report in November that set the costs at $18.2 million, an increase of $3,017,000.

A comparison of the two estimates shows cost increases for permitting fees ($29,000), environmental mitigation fees ($53,000) and design services ($193,000).

The greatest changes, however, are in the costs of materials and labor, which adds $5 million for construction costs and $742,000 in contingency fees.

According to the agenda packet, savings were also found. City Manager Don Reynolds said routing the pipeline through county-owned property will save money that would have gone to lease agreements, easement acquisition, and right of way through private property, for a savings of $1.1 million. Another $2.1 million was saved by reconfiguring where connections are made to the Hollister Plant.

Members of the public expressed concern that residents would pay the same amount regardless of how many people were in the household. Reynolds said that metering individual households for usage was not possible.

Businesses, however, can be metered. They will pay the same rate, with an added rate by volume, moving from the current $9.10 per 1,000 gallons to $22.75 in 2025. 

Reynolds said the proposed rate increases are a “worse case scenario” and the city is applying for state and federal funds to help lower the costs. The estimates do not include costs for bringing water from the West Hills Treatment plant, which will be the subject of another rate study.

The city has archived all the water plans and rate studies on its website.

Robert Eliason

I got my start as a photographer when my dad stuck a camera in my hand on the evening of my First Grade Open House. He taught me to observe, empathize, then finally compose the shot.  The editors at BenitoLink approached me as a photographer by have since encouraged me to write stories about things that interest me, turning me into a reporter as well.  BenitoLink is a great creative family that cares deeply about the San Benito community and I have been pleased to be a part of it.