Ryan Chartrand

The cost to live in San Luis Obispo isn’t only rising in the prices of homes, but the rates at which residents must pay to have the bare necessities.

With a City Council decision to increase both water rates by 13 percent in July, despite 1,869 written protests, and sewage rates by 11 percent, Mayor Dave Romero hopes to secure a strong future for San Luis Obispo.

“This is to assure a good quality of life for my grandchildren, great grandchildren and anyone else who may be here down the line,” Romero said.

The future, however, sees no sign of slowing down these rising rates until 2012 to help fund an additional water supply for the city.

The city currently gets its water from Santa Margarita Lake and the Whale Rock reservoir in Cayucos.

“If either of those goes out of service for a long period of time, we would not be able to supply enough water to the city,” Romero said. “We’re looking for a third supply, which is the Nacimiento (Lake) water.”

The increasing rates will mainly help to fund the Nacimiento Lake Water Project, an estimated $185 million project that will create a 45-mile pipeline to provide water for five communities, including San Luis Obispo.

The project will require yearly increased rates, so the council also approved an additional 13 percent water rate increase and 10 percent sewage rate increase effective July 2008. The city increased water rates 12 percent last year.

By July 2009, the average water and sewage payer will see an extra $19.06 added to each monthly bill. For those who conserve water more, however, it could mean smaller bills as the sewage rates will now be volume-based as opposed to a fixed rate.

Using ratepayers’ money to fund the Nacimiento Lake Water Project has turned the city council’s decision into a debatable topic.

Councilwoman Christine Mulholland cast the one dissenting vote in the 4-1 vote that approved the new water rate.

“I do not believe that current residents who already have enough water should have to pay for the project,” Mulholland said. “New development will be paying surcharges and increased costs to hook up to our water system, but those of us who are fronting the money aren’t going to get our money back.”

“It’s all about reliability,” Romero said. “Nacimiento might be our last best supply…this is our chance, and if we miss it we might not get another.”

A creek flows mercury into Nacimiento Lake, which could cause vision, hearing and speech impairment to those who drink the lake’s water. The mercury, however, settles at the bottom of the lake, Mulholland said.

Prior to the council’s decision, San Luis Obispo resident Terry Mohan sent postcards to 10,000 residents asking them to send written protests against the water rate increase to the city council.

“I think when the public does not have enough information or is not well-informed, the city should do something as simple and easy as what Mohan did,” Mulholland said.

Although residents sent 1,869 protests, state law requires 50 percent plus 1 of the city’s more than 14,000 water ratepayers to protest. Only 11 percent raised their voice.

Mohan hasn’t given up yet, however. He recently started an initiative that will give all registered voters the chance to vote on the water rate increase by sometime around August.

“They put this to the public in a dishonest way,” Mohan said, referring to the fact that the rate increase was put to a council vote. “I think they manipulated the rules to circumvent the voters’ wishes.”

“The most important action that any council has taken in the 13 years I’ve been on the council is this assurance for a water supply,” Romero said.

Water conservation

The increasing rates mean that residents need to conserve water more than ever, said Bob Nicholson, a San Luis Obispo utilities conservation technician.

“Residents need to be aware if they have a toilet leak as I’ve seen water bills of over $100 because of a leaky toilet,” Nicholson said. “If it runs overnight or if there’s a little disturbance in the toilet when no one has flushed it recently, you need to have someone take a look at it.”

He also noted that a faucet or a hose leaking can add up over a 30-day period and should be fixed as soon as possible.

“You can see if you have an active leak by checking the water meter outside the house,” Nicholson said. If the black arrow on the dial face is moving, something is leaking.”

Residents should also be aware of their irrigation, Nicholson said.

“If it looks like your lawn is soaked or your heels sink into the grass when walking on it, it should be checked out,” he said.

During the winter month, Nicholson said it’s important that residents turn off their irrigation systems, because the sewer bill for the following year will be determined by how much water is used during the winter.

The SLO life isn’t cheap

With the growing cost of both home prices and even the bare necessities like water and sewage in San Luis Obispo, residents like Mohan are pointing to the rise in growth as the root cause.

“I moved here because it’s a nice, small town,” Mohan said. “I’m from back east and I know what overdevelopment and irresponsible development can do.”

“I’ve heard there’s been too much growth, that it’s getting too expensive and that people are looking elsewhere now,” Mulholland said. “I know people are still moving in, but I know some long-term residents feel that it’s not the same San Luis Obispo that they’ve come to know and love and are now living elsewhere.”

What about for Cal Poly? Are potential students looking away once they see the rising costs to live in San Luis Obispo?

“Absolutely not,” said James Maraviglia, assistant vice president for admissions, recruitment and financial aid. “We have a record prospect pool of over 300,000 prospects banging on our door right now.”

Many potential students know that there aren’t many cheap places to live in California and have become used to it, Maraviglia said.

“We’ve seen an increase in applicants of over 150 percent in the past 13 years,” he said. “Cal Poly must be doing something right to remain attractive.”

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  1. This is great! This will help drive the implementation of greywater reuse installations and push people towards conserving one of our most valuable resources. Goodbye useless front lawns!

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