People who get water and sewer services from Tuolumne Utilities District are going to see rate increases again Jan. 1.

According to postcards mailed out by TUD staff last week, the district’s January 2019 rate increases mean a residential treated water customer with a 1-inch or smaller meter will have to pay a $4 monthly base rate increase, and a 20-cent in quantity charges. A residential sewer customer will have to pay a $3 monthly base rate increase.

Both increases are effective Jan. 1.

Annual rate increases have been routine for TUD customers in recent years. Back in November 2015, the elected, five-member board of directors for TUD voted unanimously to adopt water and sewer rate increases over five years through 2020.

That five-year rate plan came hand-in-hand with a five-year capital improvement plan to upgrade TUD’s water and sewer infrastructure.

The rate increases are necessary to fund an average of $3.9 million a year through 2020 to replace water and sewer facilities, according to TUD staff. They say current water and sewer rates have not kept pace with rising expenses, inflation and changes in state regulations.

Tuolumne Utilities District serves about 44,000 people in Tuolumne County.

About 95 percent of the water TUD distributes to customers comes from the South Fork Stanislaus River watershed and gets impounded in Pacific Gas and Electric reservoirs at Pinecrest and Lyons.

Tuolumne Utilities District customers also rely on PG&E’s Tuolumne Main Canal, a flume-ditch system dating back to the Gold Rush era, to convey water from Lyons Reservoir to Phoenix Powerhouse. According to PG&E, the Tuolumne Main Canal was built in 1851 and 1852 to support mining and irrigation needs, and the original Phoenix Powerhouse was constructed in 1898.

Separate from PG&E-owned facilities, Tuolumne Utilities District owns and operates 71 miles of ditch, flume, pipe, and tunnel infrastructure that diverts water from the PG&E system at multiple locations.

Most TUD customers live in or near Sonora, most of which stands between 1,800 feet and 2,000 feet elevation. TUD also serves customers in communities to the east, past Sierra Village, at elevations up to 6,000 feet.

Tuolumne Utilities District uses about 140 miles of sewer pipeline to collect 400 to 500 million gallons of sewage per year.

The district relies on Sonora Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant, built in the late 1970s, and a network of sewer main lines that collect sewage from surrounding areas of Columbia, East Sonora, Mono Village, Mono Vista, Ranchos Poquitos, Soulsbyville, Twain Harte and Willow Springs.

Also in the late 1970s, a regional reclamation system was built to allow the reuse of treated sewer effluent for irrigation on pasture lands outside Jamestown. TUD’s overall sewer system serves about 6,000 residential, commercial and industrial customers.

Back in November 2015 before the Tuolumne Utilities District board voted to approve rate increases, Tom Haglund, the TUD general manager at the time, told the board the main thing they could do to ensure the district’s financial sustainability going forward is approve rates that cover district expenses.

Contact Guy McCarthy at gmccarthy@uniondemocrat.com or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.

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