Water & Drought

Utility board approves Tulare drought surcharge

Water bills for Tulare residents could soon have a drought surcharge.

The city's five-member Board of Public Utilities voted unanimously last week to impose the surcharge to pay for costs from the rapidly falling underground water table and hiring water cops.

The surcharge of $1.36 per month would apply to all accounts and take effect Oct. 1. The board also approved a rate increase of 6.67 cents per 1,000 gallons.

The average monthly residential water bill would rise to $24.07, up from $21.65, the city said.

On Aug. 19, the Tulare City Council will review the surcharge and rate increase approved by the public utilities board at a public hearing. Under the city charter, the council can approve, lower or rescind it, said City Manager Don Dorman.

The surcharge will be reviewed every four months and lifted when underground water levels rise, said Board of Public Utilities chairman Lee Brehm.

"We lost 58 feet of water last year -- that's extraordinary," he said.

Because of the water table drop, more electricity is needed to pump water to the surface, which caused the water system's electricity bill to climb, he said.

The utility also incurred costs when pumping equipment inside four wells was lowered to reach water, he said.

Some of the revenue is slated for public education, advertising and hiring two part-time temporary employees to enforce city water restrictions.

The city sent out 17,791 notices about the proposed surcharge and received 10 letters of protest, well short of the 8,525 letters needed to oppose the surcharge.