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Lathrop water rates won’t go up in 2019
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For the last several years, Lathrop residents have seen their monthly water bills increase as part of a five-year plan to service the city’s existing water bonds. 

But this year they get a reprieve. 

On Monday, the Lathrop City Council voted to suspend the annual rate increase for the upcoming calendar year after a rate study determined that the city’s water fund was overperforming – spurred by development and the lifting of drought restrictions. 

The move will save Lathrop residents just under $100 on their total cost of water service. 

According to the staff report prepared for the item, staff conducted an annual review in 2018 that determined that the sewer fund, which will see an increase of $4 a month this year in accordance with the study for residents in East Lathrop, and $5 a month for residents of West Lathrop, was performing slightly below the rate study’s projection but still within a sustainable range. The water rate portion of the study, however, was outperforming the projections due to the lifting of drought restrictions – the mandatory conservation forced residents to use less water and therefore generated less revenue to service the debt on the city’s water bonds – and an influx of development. 

But the temporary halt to increases are not an indication of an ongoing future cost reduction to residents. According to the staff report, the reimplementation of water conservation measures could force revenues to once again drastically decline and prompt an increase to offset those shortfalls so that Lathrop can continue to meet its debt obligations. Other factors, like the implementation of sustainable groundwater legislation that could limit the amount of water that Lathrop pumps from wells, tighter standards for contaminants, or new regulations for hazardous materials disposal stemming from water – like arsenic – could also drive up the cost for the city and, ultimately, the residents that fund the system.

The last multi-year drought raised the possibility that the city would have to further increase costs in order to offset the shortfalls that were caused by mandatory conservation, but a historically wet winter that snapped the dry spell and subsequent wet winters that have kept California reservoirs close to full halted those advancements. 

With a storm currently battering Northern California and dumping several inches of rain in the valley alone, the reservoirs that provide drinking water in the South San Joaquin County – like New Melones Reservoir – is currently above its historical average, and with all indications pointing to a healthy California snowpack this year, the likelihood of drought seems slim. 

The city will review the financial trends later this year to determine whether the approved rate increase for 2020 – the last year of the five-year forecast – will need to be implemented. 

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.