For the third year in a row, water rates are expected to increase for Long Beach customers.

The Long Beach Water Commission voted today, Thursday, to raise water and sewer rates by 4% apiece.

The rate hike, effective Oct. 1 (the beginning of fiscal year 2017 for the Water Department), would increase bills for the average single-family household by about $1.83 per month for water; sewer bills would increase by approximately $0.48 per month. Before implementation, the commission must conduct a public Proposition 218 hearing and the City Council must approve the budget.

The Long Beach Water Department uses imported water from the Metropolitan Water District of California (MWD) and operates wells to pump local groundwater. The Water Replenishment District (WRD) charges a per acre-foot aquifer replenishment fee for groundwater pumped, while water is directly purchased from MWD.

In recent years, the costs associated with procuring water, including water purchase fees, materials supplies, and the pump tax, have increased dramatically. The department has been using reserve money in order to gradually raise rates each year, rather than all at once.

"It's a minimal increase," Water Department General Manager Chris Garner said. "Long Beach Water has done a good job of budgeting conservatively."

The rate increase is not related to the drop in usage due to conservation efforts, he said, noting that the department had already accounted for a drop in revenue due to reduced usage.

The department first raised water rates by 4% in 2014, and increases are expected to continue at 4% per year through 2018. Sewer rates saw their first 4% hike in 2015 and are expected to continue at the same annual pace through 2019 — staying the course in the board’s strategic plan to balance the budget through a series of small increases.

In its report, staff noted that comparably, Long Beach’s monthly water-plus-sewer costs for a single-family home ($73.40) remain less expensive, on average, than Sacramento ($91.99), Los Angeles ($105.10) San Diego ($133.64) and San Francisco ($215.40).

The proposed rate increase and the department’s budget are expected to go before City Council in September. The council must approve the increase before it can go into effect.

Jennifer Rice Epstein writes about business, environmental issues and K-12 education. Her essays and reporting also have appeared in The Morning News, Vice and LA Weekly, among others. She lives with her family in Bixby Knolls and tweets about Long Beach.

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