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Water, sewer rates examined
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City officials are turning to separate consultants to study water and sewer rates in Ceres.

The city has not increased rates for either service in quite a while and revenues are falling short, said Mike Brinton, the Interim City Engineer.

"This is going to see what our costs are and what we need to be charging for it," said Brinton.

The Ceres City Council approved a $77,000 contract on Jan. 14 with West Yost and Associates consulting engineers in Davis to analyze at the actual costs of providing water services are and how to spread that among residents.

At the same meeting, it approved a contract with ECO:LOGIC consulting engineers which will cost rate payers $280,400. The study will also monitor the sewer system to determine what future sewer capacity needs are for Ceres as well as coming up with a service fee that will cover a gap in costs versus revenues.

"We will be coming back and asking the council to authorize us to upgrade our water master plan and our sewer master plan," said Brinton.

The water study will also factor in Ceres' share of the costs of participating in the regional surface water plant being planned by the Turlock Irrigation District.

Water rates will need to be increased also to pay for the costs of state-mandated metering.

Currently the city charges a flat rate of $15.30 per month to supply water to its approximately 42,000 residents. Non-residential users pay on a metered basis on a three-tiered system.

Since 1992, the city has been installing water meters on new residential construction but still charges a flat rate. State law is requiring that all customers must be metered and billed based on metered flow by 2025. To phase in the process, by 2010 all homes built prior to 1992 will need to be metered. The cost of complying with state metering laws will need to be included in setting the new water rates.

Also, the city's participation in the TID surface water delivery system will dramatically drive up costs. It's been estimated that rates will probably triple from $15.30 to $42.09 when the project goes on line in 2011.

City officials say the system is expensive but is necessary to provide a good and dependable source of water. Tightening state and federal water regulations are getting so burdensome that the city cannot solely rely on groundwater in the future.

Officials have been talking about a regional water plant since the 1980s when it became apparent that water aquifers under the Valley floor are both in limited supply and contain problems with contaminants.

Turlock Irrigation District is in the planning stage to construct a regional surface water plant for Ceres, Hughson, Turlock and South Modesto. The project is expected to go out to bid in the spring of 2008 with construction running from summer of 2008 to 2011.

The water system will be designed for a capacity draw of 65 million gallons per day. Some of the draw, approximately 20 mpg will go directly to the Ceres Main Canal for irrigation purposes.

Ceres plans to take 10 mgd of the capacity, Turlock 15 mgd.