Utility Watchdog in San Diego

Four Horsemen of the Water Bill

The Four Horsemen of the Water Bill each represent a terrible thing: a line item on your City of San Diego water bill. Separately, each line item packs a powerful punch against your pocketbook. But unite their powers and you'll experience a pain unlike any others.

 1) Water Base Fee - The water base fee is a flat rate per month based upon the size of your meter. For the typical 5/8 or 3/4 inch meter, the monthly base fee is $19.33. This fee covers meter maintenance and other administrative costs.

 2) Water Used - This is the charge for the water you actually consume. The City bills you in HCF, or hundred cubic feet. One HCF is equal to a shade over 748 gallons, or 748 gallon cartons of milk. The City has a tiered rate structure, meaning the more water you use the more you pay per HCF. The cheapest water rate is the first tier, which gives you up to 7 HCF per month. The second tier is between 7 and 14 HCF per month. The third tier is above 14 HCF per month.

 3) Sewer Base Fee - Like the water base fee, the sewer base fee is a flat rate per month. Since there is no sewer meter, all single-family residential customers pay the same monthly rate: $15.33  (3/1/12)

 4) Sewer Service Charge - This is the charge for your use of the City's sewer system. Unlike the water use charge, the sewer service charge is not based on your sewer use that billing period but an annualized rate that is calculated during your Winter Monitoring Period. This charge depends not on the amount of water you use in a billing period but on the amount of days in the billing period. If you didn't have a Winter Monitoring Period in the previous year, the City charges you the new customer sewer service charge based upon 9 HCF per month--$95.43 using the current sewer rate.

When Powers Combine

As mentioned previously, the potetency of each individual line item is compounded when all the charges are added together. Not including the water use fee, a new customer will pay $70 per month for the water base fee, sewer base fee, and sewer service charge. However, the City bills you bimonthly--once every two months. This means we need to double the monthly charges, making a new customer's bill--without including the water use fee--$140 every billing period. Shocking, yes, but not as shocking as this next revelation: three out of the four horsemen are fixed charges.

Yes, that's right. Three out of the four main charges on your water bill have nothing to do with how much water you use in a billing period. I'll repeat that last point for emphasis: three out of the four main charges on your water bill have nothing to do with how much water you use in a billing period.

The Fix Is In

If you re-read the description of the water base fee, the sewer base fee, and the sewer service charge, you'll find that these are all fixed costs. Whether you use 1 HCF or 100 HCF, those three charges are fixed and will not change. The only portion of your bill you control every month is the water use charge. 

To further exmplify this point, what would happen if a City of San Diego water customer used the lowest billable amount of water every two months--one HCF? Using one HCF would put this conserving customer in the first tier of $3.612 per HCF. For the sake of argument, let's say this customer also had an annualized sewer service charge of one HCF, which would add another $3.8211 to the bill. The customer's overall bill for a two month period would be $78.65. Almost $80 to use one HCF that cost $3.612.