Menlo Park Municipal Water (MPMW) provides water to roughly half of the city of Menlo Park and is planning to introduce new water rates. A water service rates public hearing notice has been mailed to all property owners and mailboxes in the MPMW district. They are proposing a new three-tier set of increasing water rates as "... the best compromise between fairness and the promotion of water conservation."
The tiers were built upon assumptions of household water consumption: Tier 1 is based on the assumption that individuals in a family each use up to 55 gallons per day for normal indoor use. Tier 2 represents excess indoor plus outdoor usage of up to 110 gallons per day per persons in the family. Tier 3 represents outdoor usage that results in water usage greater than the maximum of Tier 2. The critical reality is that MPMW's residential customers are not families but water meters. For single-family residences this is not an issue — one meter measures the water usage of one family. However, for multifamily residences — condominiums and apartments — this is a serious difference as one meter measures the water consumption of many families, depending on the size of the structure.
For example, I live in a condominium complex that has one meter measuring the water usage of 57 families. For our water meter to measure usage in tier 2 for the month, every single person in the 57 families would have to use less than 2 gallons of water a day (110/57), or just one flush of a low-flow toilet per day! This is clearly not possible and in fact, our water meter goes into tier 3 by the second day of the month. Multifamily residences are essentially stuck in tier 3 even if they practice exceptional water conservation, and are charged a water consumption rate that is 71% higher than tier 1 and 27% higher than tier 2. Clearly an increasing tier structure is unfair and doesn't promote conservation for multifamily residences. The inequity impact gets worse over the five-year horizon of the proposed water rates. In 2022 multifamily residences will represent 6.84% of all residences, and this percentage grows to 9.93% as a result of a 40% increase in multifamily residential connections over the next five years.
California is currently experiencing a drought, and the likelihood that future droughts could be more severe due to climate change is significant. The MPMW district has a six stage drought contingency plan that can be triggered by a declaration of a drought emergency by the Menlo Park City Council. Stages 1 through 6 require all water customers to reduce usage by 10%, 20%, 30%, 40%, 50%, and finally, greater than 50%, respectively. To achieve this, the district has set customer water reduction requirements for each of the usage tiers. Taking stage 3 as an example, customers in tier 1 are required to reduce consumption by 2.0%, tier 2 by 5.5%, and tier 3 by 40.3%. If residential water customers were families, these requirements would be reasonable to reach an overall reduction of 30% for stage 3. However, in reality MPMW customers are water meters, not families.
As noted above, virtually all multifamily residences' water meters will be in tier 3. This means that every family living in a multifamily complex will have to reduce their water consumption by almost seven times more than single-family residences to reach the water reduction goals of the district. Families living in apartments and condominiums have a smaller footprint in terms of land use and water consumption than families living in single-family residences and should not shoulder a significantly larger water use reduction requirement.
The Menlo Park City Council will vote on adopting the new water rates at a public hearing on Tuesday, May 11, starting at 5 p.m. The meeting link is available at menlopark.org/waterrates along with other background information. You can oppose the new water rates by filing a protest, but only property owners, in a written letter (or digitally signed email) can protest. However, it is the City Council that will vote to accept or reject the proposed new rates and you, whether you are a renter or home owner, can email all the council members via a single email address, [email protected], and express your opinion of the new rates.
Jay Siegel is a Menlo Park resident.