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Water: Use less, save more
It pays Mantecans to conserve water
Virtually all of Manteca’s winter water needs are met by the Nick DeGroot Surface Water Treatment Plant 16 miles northeast of the city. When demand picks up in warmer months the city relies heavily on wells. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Conserve water and pay less.

That is the philosophy behind Manteca’s municipal water rate structure that has been in place now for almost a year.

Municipal leaders earlier this month opted to suspend an increase in one segment of the two-part charge - the water use charge – due to cost savings they have been able to generate by staff reorganization and lower costs for replacement pipeline projects.

The strategy involves lowering the base rate for several years while the charges for actual water use are wrenched up slightly each year. The one-year suspension of the water use charge increase coupled with a scheduled drop in the base rate means residential customers who don’t change their water use in 2010 compared to 2009 will save $1.45 a month.

It won’t undermine the conservation efforts through the rate structure that is mandated by state law. Water use has dropped during the past year due to many people heeding the concern about California’s third year of drought.

While base charges are paid by everyone, there are three block charges for uses based on consumption. The more you use per 100 cubic feet of water or 748 gallons the more you are charged.

Landscape irrigation is the highest use of residential water. By not overwatering as well as irrigating when water loss is at a minimum – before noon and after 6 p.m. – you can reduce water consumption. City leaders points out many people still have their lawns on timers to come on as they do during hotter months even though winter is now here and it has been raining or moisture content is high in the air.

Toilets are the biggest household use of water. If a toilet is equipped with non-conserving fixtures and the toilet is flushed five times per day per person it will consume 27.5 gallons of water per capita each day based on 5.5 gallons per flush. By going to three flushes a day you can save 11 gallons. If you switch to conservation fixtures that use 1.6 gallons while still using flushing five times a day it will save 19 gallons each day per person.

Showers taken for five minutes with conserving features consumes 20 gallons. Cut the shower by a minute and you’ll save 4 gallons. Put in low-flow showerheads and shower for five minutes you’ll cut water use in half to 10 gallons.

Studies have shown most people do not wash with full loads meaning that a household typically uses an average of 12.5 gallons per day over the course of a month. Washing with full loads reduces water consumption by a gallon a day. Water efficient washers reduce water use even further.

The rate structure adopted in 2008 was based on a study that showed the city’s water division needs a 5 percent increase in revenue annually to keep up with the cost of maintaining the system, paying water employees, purchasing chemicals to treat well water, energy to run the wells, and to set aside money needed to replace aging sections of pipeline as they near the end of their life.

There three blocks of water usage increases the unit cost per 100 cubic feet or for every 748 gallons used during a billing period.

• The first block of up to 2,000 cubic feet is currently $1.03 per hundred cubic feet.
• The second block of 2,001 cubic feet to 30,000 cubic feet is currently $1.35 per hundred cubic feet.
• The third block, any usage over 30,000 cubic feet, is currently $2.72 per hundred cubic feet.

The conservation payback comes in the tier usage that already rewards those who use less water.

A rate study is done every five years — along with the sewer rate study — to make sure all operational and maintenance costs including replacement of equipment and pipelines are provided for in the monthly rates.

Both are enterprise funds, which mean the users pay for the actual cost with no outside subsidies from the general fund.

The city switched to the every five-year review to assure that everything is kept on even keel to avoid a repeat of the mid-1980s when the city almost went bankrupt as well as in the mid-1990s when top management at city hall avoided bringing reports of increase costs back to the City Council on the assumption the elected leaders didn’t want to deal with rate increases.