Water rates for tens of thousands of people in the Sacramento area are rising by an average of 14.7 percent starting this month as part of a multimillion-dollar revenue increase state regulators granted California American Water.
The company, also known as Cal Am, has 57,000 water hookups serving 180,000 residents in the Sacramento area.
Under the increase the California Public Utilities Commission granted earlier this month, the company began collecting $24 million more in revenue from customers in its six service districts in California, from San Diego to Ventura, Los Angeles, Monterey and Sacramento.
Cal Am had sought a $33.1 million increase statewide for this year. It received about 73 percent of what it requested.
When the increases were proposed in 2010, they drew angry opposition from many older and fixed-income Sacramento-area customers.
Protesters said then that they already felt battered by the rough economy with its rising utility and transportation costs.
Many already had cut back on water use. That helped reduce their expenses and save a natural resource.
But it also meant districts such as Cal Am and others around the state were selling less water. To counteract declining revenues, companies turned to rate-hike proposals.
In Sacramento, Cal Am customers saw their rates rise by double-digit percentages in 2010, another 3 percent in January 2011, and by 3.5 percent in January of this year. The latter increase was put in place to blunt the impact of the 2012 overall rate hike because the complicated regulatory decision was delayed to midyear.
For each of the next two calendar years, additional but moderate rate increases already have been proposed; Cal Am must return to the state PUC for authorizations.
Cal Am officials said this month's rate hike of 14.7 percent means a residential customer with a five-eighths-inch water connection who uses 1,500 cubic feet of water a month will pay just over $49.
One hundred cubic feet of water is 748.5 gallons.
Bimonthly billing will end and on July 2 will convert to monthly meter readings and bills.
Carolyn Duran, a Citrus Heights resident for 32 years and a Cal Am customer who last year expressed frustration over rising rates, said it's clear to her that part of the increased rates will finance more hiring to implement monthly billing.
Already, she said, her bill has gone "up and up." Over the last three to five years, she said, the increases have been substantial.
Company officials have long said increases were needed to improve the quality of the service areas in the Sacramento region.
"We're working very hard to modernize these systems and making a tremendous capital investment," Cal Am spokesman Evan Jacobs said last week.
Jacobs said that through 2014, the increases will help fund replacements of approximately 30,000 feet of backyard water mains, moving them to streets; replacement and upgrade of some of the district's aging wells; and investing millions of dollars in other system and water-treatment improvements.
Cal Am became established in the Sacramento area a decade ago when the parent company, American Water Works Inc., bought local service areas from Citizens Utilities Co. of California.
Cal Am now serves residents north, east and south of the city of Sacramento, including an area west of Roseville in Placer County and both Isleton and Walnut Grove to the south of Sacramento.