It’s been 13 years since Manteca last raised sewer and water rates.
While that may have made users happy to not have to see a rate increase since 2009, it has come at a cost.
The city’s water and sewer system — just like the plumbing in a house or commercial structure — deteriorates over time. And in order to prevent costly emergency repairs as Manteca has had to pay for in the past, the city needs to get ahead of aging pipelines — especially main trunk lines — and replace or retrofit them before they fail.
“We need to make sure our water and sewer lines are kept up and running,” noted Interim City Manager Toni Lundgren.
And in order to do so, rates need to be increased.
The challenge is reflected in the city’s water system.
At the beginning of 2022, there were 289 miles of water pipeline in Manteca. That amount of pipeline — if placed end-to end — would stretch from Manteca to the edge of the San Fernando Valley just north of the Six Flags amusement park in Valencia.
There are steel main pipelines in Manteca that are more than 70 years old.
While emergency repairs in past years have had to be done on smaller water pipelines they are not as problematic as sewer lines.
Both water and sewer lines can deteriorate from age, forces of pressure being beneath streets, and such. But what flows through the sewer lines can literally eat into pipe causing it to fail as the years unfold.
Sewer main failed
under Union in 2018
That’s what happened in 2018 when nearly a mile long segment of sewer pipe under Union Road was found to be near collapse after a section failed near the intersection with Alameda Street.
Shortly after those repairs were made, technology using cameras to inspect pipelines found similar weaknesses on Louise Avenue pipeline between Union Road and Main Street.
In both cases the city opted to temporarily bypass the sewer lines with above ground pipe while inserting new lining inside existing pipe.
It was considered the most cost effective way to squeeze out another 50 years or so of use.
The city is in the process of replacing a sewer main from the northern part of the city that feeds into the wastewater treatment plant that was also determined to be found on the verge of collapse.
It was most dicey on a segment within a half mile of the treatment that is fed by lines collecting sewer from more than 20,000 residents.
All of this means the City of Manteca is going to be raising sewer rates.
The city 10 months ago hired Stantec Consulting Services for $1,048,000 to devise a wastewater master plan and conduct a sewer rate study.
Fourteen months ago the council obtained the services of HyrdroScience Engineers for just under $1 million to develop a citywide water and water rate study.
The cost factor and time it is taking to do the studies reflects the sheer size of the water and sewer systems that Manteca is dealing with. When both studies are finished, the city will have a clear picture of the expected lifespan of various system components and what the cost will be to extend their lives or — if needed — replace them.
There is no doubt rates have to be raised given the city’s aging systems.
Also forcing the need to raise rates are a number of factors.
*There hasn’t been a water or sewer rate increase since 2009.
*The two enterprise accounts were kept going by inter-fund loans from other accounts such as growth fees collected for new street work that has to legally paid back with interest.
*Inflation is increasing the cost of ongoing maintenance and operations.
*The city’s utility funds that include solid waste, water, and sewer have roughly $2 million in utility billings that haven’t been collected.
*There is a need to fund replacement projects going forward for aging pipes and equipment.
Previous councils suspended
4 years of planned rate hikes
The last rate increase was scheduled in 2013 . That, however, is only true on paper.
The council back in 2008 adopted four annual rate increases for sewer and water that covered projected operating and maintenance costs as well as building up set aside funds for replacement projects.
However, the same council — and the council seated over the next election cycles — subsequently suspended each of the annual hikes that were supposed to go into effect in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 based on the last rate hike studies the city commissioned.
They did so at the depth of the Great Recession and after they obtained concessions that cutback pay and eliminated agreed upon pay hikes for city workers including those whose jobs are with the city utility divisions that are funded through users who pay into enterprise accounts.
The rationale was the city was cutting costs so they would provide stressed households and businesses with relief by suspending the rate hikes.
Those concessions at the time amounted to a 20 percent reduction in wage costs. Since then, the lost wages have been restored and then some.
Then mostly without the knowledge of elected officials city staff instituted interfund borrowing to underwrite major water and wastewater projects to avoid the funds from being depleted.
The water rate study is being broken down into two separate rate hikes.
The need for two rate studies reflects the urgency of the city’s financial situation when it comes to the water fund account.
The “interim” rate needs to address covering that deficit as well as covering maintenance and operations costs going forward.
The “final rate” will be an add on to generate funds needed for project capital improvement work to upgrade wells, replace aging water lines, and upgrade the system to handle growth. That analysis is expected to take well over a year to complete.
Both studies and what is needed in the form of rate hikes, are expected to be presented to the city in the coming months.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email firstname.lastname@example.org