The Long Beach Water Department is on schedule to be back in the black by 2017 despite a drought that has ravaged the State of California for the better part of four years. The announcement was made during LBWD General Manager Kevin Wattier’s final budget presentation to the city council Tuesday night.
Wattier said that the department, which is in year three of a five-year plan, has used incremental rate increases of four percent to help balance out its expenditures and revenues. Although Long Beach does pump about 60 percent of its water out of its own groundwater aquifer, it purchases the remaining 40 percent from the Metropolitan Water District.
Rate increases by the MWD which have topped 85% of what they were just a few years ago and replenishment fees for pumping groundwater have left the department running in the deficit for some time, Wattier said.
“We’ve been absorbing those costs for many years now, running a deficit budget for many years now and spending down our reserves,” Wattier said. “Obviously you can’t continue to do that forever.”
The rate increases are on pace to put the department out of deficit a year earlier than planned. Wattier said despite the steady four percent increases over the last three years, the department still has the lowest average monthly bill in Los Angeles County at just over $70 per month.
The county average monthly bill is $81.34 and other larger cities in the state like Los Angeles, Oakland, San Diego and San Francisco all have monthly average rates that top $100. The water department’s ability to keep rates low while surrounding suppliers and municipalities have not was applauded by Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal.
“During the years that the Metropolitan Water District raised their rates by 20 percent we did not raise our residents’ rates by any amount,” Lowenthal said. “We held at zero for those three years because we felt that it was important to recognize our residents for the work that they’re doing, the conservation efforts that they’re making. And really our residents are the leaders in the Metropolitan Water District service area.”
The city has met its 16 percent conservation standard handed down by Governor Jerry Brown earlier this year in each of the first three months that numbers were required to be reported. The city’s ability to meet that mark was not the only source of pride for Wattier during the presentation.
“One of the programs that we’re very proud of that we don’t end up in the newspapers very often about is our pipe replacement program,” Wattier said. “We’ve had a very extensive pipe replacement program in the water department for over 20 years now.”
At one point the city averaged between 100-150 main breaks per year but with a focus on replacement and rejuvenation—around a $6 million investment each year—the department has cut those numbers down to about 30 breaks per year.
As Wattier nears retirement he says that the department still has a lot of work to do, work that he’s hopeful his newly appointed replacement, Christopher Garner, will carry on. Garner will take over for Wattier after his retirement later this month.