Watch CBS News

San Jose Water Customers Face Surcharge For Conserving Too Much Water

SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) -- During the drought, many water agencies raised rates on Bay Area residents who used too much water.  Now, customers of the San Jose Water Company may soon pay more because they didn't use enough.

All across San Jose, several years of drought have forced people to change their water use habits. Artificial grass replaced real and there is xeriscaping instead of thirsty lawns. In all, household water consumption dropped by about 20 percent.

"We tried the best we could with a family of five," said San Jose resident Richard Saucedo. "It's a little tough but I think we did OK with it."

The state Public Utilities Commission sets the amount the water company can charge that is based on how much water the PUC thinks people will use. But last year, when water was plentiful, consumers continued to conserve. And therein lies the problem.

"We don't sell the amount of water that was projected because people are changing their behavior and using less water," said San Jose Water spokesperson Jayme Ackemann.  "And because of that, unfortunately, we can't cover our costs."

The water company says it now has a $9 million deficit. So they are asking the PUC for permission to add a surcharge to people's bills for 2019 to cover the shortfall. It will only total about two dollars on the average bill, but it feels like a betrayal to those who did what they were asked.

"I can see how people like me are going to be frustrated," said San Jose water customer Jackie Vasquez. "Because they feel like they don't have any control. They're trying their best to conserve."

"Yeah, we're going to punish you for doing your duty," said resident Bill Hunt.  "You know, making good on the environment and everything?  I just don't get it anymore."

The water company says the largest expense is not the water itself, but what it costs to deliver it to customers' homes. And that doesn't change just because people use fewer gallons.  But the surcharge raises the question of what will happen next time angry homeowners are asked to conserve.

"I think some people may not strive as much to conserve as they did probably this time," said South Bay resident Hector Mora. He said his family worked to change their water habits.  "A lot of people are probably not going to follow instructions."

San Jose Water says the biggest problem was the PUC overestimated how much water people would use, so they set the per gallon price too low. The numbers have been adjusted for 2019, so officials are hoping they won't have to impose a surcharge again next year.

Residents have until April 18 to lodge any protests with the PUC over the proposed surcharge. If approved, it could take effect on July 1.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.