San Francisco water rates projected to double to pay off debt

Water rates in San Francisco are projected to more double over the next decade, as the bills for rebuilding The City's sewers – and the system of dams and pipes that delivers fresh drinking water – come due.

Currently, the average household pays about $86 a month to the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission for flushing toilets and running taps. About $12 of that goes to pay off the SFPUC's debt incurred for big construction projects.

By 2024 – when big payments for major infrastructure improvement projects come due – the bill is projected to more than double to $200 per month, with $86 of that going straight to paying off debt.

More than half the budget will go to debt servicing, to pay for projects like rebuilding dams and making aqueducts seismically safe – “things that will last 20, 30, or in some cases nearly 100 years,” said Todd Rydstrom, the SFPUC's assistant general manager and chief financial officer.

By law, the SFPUC sets new rates every five years. Rates are scheduled to go up again next summer, following a lengthy public process.

New rates will be announced in February.

The City currently has some of the cheapest water in California. San Jose, Oakland, Los Angeles and San Diego all have higher water bills, according to the SFPUC.

By the 2020s, city residents will be paying double but using less water, according to projections. By then, lower-flow toilets and more efficient washing machines are expected to lower per-person usage even as The City's population grows.

Low-income residents may see their bills fall well below the average, however. The SFPUC may add a third or fourth “tier” – lower bills that come with lower-income brackets – when it next sets rates.

Down the drain

Major improvements to the system that keeps The City's water flowing aren't cheap.

NOW

Water

Budget: $392.1 million

Debt payments: $145.077 million

Sewer

Budget: $232.0 million

Debt payments: $48.72 million

Average monthly customer bill: $86

IN 2024

Water

Budget: $778.5 million

Debt payments: $404.82 million

Sewer

Budget: $673.3 million

Debt payments: $363.582 million

Average monthly customer bill: $200

Source: S.F. Public Utilities Commission

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