Richmond residents face steep sewer rate hikes

Richmond's $16.5 million Wet Weather Storage Project was completed in 2016 in order to prevent sewage overflows during storm events.

Roughly half of Richmond’s residents could see their annual sewer rates increase by $330 over the next five years, as city officials cite a need to fund legally-mandated capital improvement projects.

On Tuesday, Richmond City Council heard preliminary recommendations from a rate study done every five years for the city’s Wastewater Enterprise, which comprises of a sanitary sewer collection system, wastewater treatment plant and disposal system. The council, however, took no action on the proposals, and will make that determination at a future hearing and following additional public outreach.

The city maintains about half of the sewer lines within the city’s boundaries, with many customers in the northern half of the city serviced by West County Wastewater District, and residents in the southern section of Richmond Annex serviced by Stege Sanitary District.

Under the preliminary proposal, Richmond Wastewater Enterprise customers would see an increase for single family homes from the current $880 per year to $940 in fiscal year 2021, while multi-family units will see rates rise from $707 to $752 and commercial/industrial rates would increase from the current minimum of $527 to $564.

Credit: City of Richmond

The proposal has rates increasing each year thereafter, with the annual rate for single family homes rising to $1,000 in fiscal year 2022, $1,070 in fiscal year 2023, $1,140 in fiscal year 2024 and in 1,210 fiscal year 2025.

In 2007, the rate for single family homes was $469 per year, which is $411 less than the current rate, and $741 less than the rate could become in 2025.

Rates have been increasing annually to keep pace with requirements of a legal settlement, according to city officials. In 2005, Baykeeper and the West County Toxics Coalition launched litigation alleging violations of the federal Clean Water Act by the city, West County Wastewater District, West County Agency and Veolia.

In a settlement agreement in 2006, which focused in part on reducing sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs) that release untreated sewage into the environment, the city was required to reduce SSOs from a maximum 114 annual incidents in 2007 to 10 in 2016. Through 2013, the city complied with the agreement, but it did not achieve the required reductions in three subsequent years. During that time, construction on a $16.5 million project was underway to upgrade Richmond’s wastewater treatment plant to better prevent SOS incidents during storm events. The upgrades went online in 2016.

Due to lack of compliance, a new legal agreement was reached that expires in 2029 and outlines specific capital projects that need to be achieved by the city. The city said it needs the proposed rate hikes to help pay for $145 million in capital needs over five years.

“Major capital work is needed to improve conveyance and eliminate SSOs during periods of wet weather, and also to replace/restore approximately 29 total miles of degraded pipe segments,” according to city documents.

In June, the East Bay Municipal Utilities District approved a two-year increase of nearly 13 percent to sewer rates in order to pay for $65 million for upgrades, including pipe replacement.