At the moment, there's plenty of water and you can expect to pay more for it this year.
This winter's rain and snow has filled the region's reservoirs nicely. At the same time, water districts in the East Bay have either raised their rates or are planning to do so.
The Contra Costa Water District raised rates by 3.5 percent last week. The East Bay Municipal Utility District has raised rates by 6 percent the past two years. They'll hold hearings this spring on whether to increase rates again on July 1.
On Thursday night, the Alameda County Water District will hold a hearing on a proposal to raise their rates by 17 percent. The hike, if approved, would increase an average homeowner's monthly water bill by $7.50.
The increase will raise $8 million a year. Walt Wadlow, the district's general manager, said the money will go directly to the district's perpetual program to replace its 800 miles of pipelines.
The program costs $10 million a year. Wadlow said they're replacing about 10 miles of pipe each year, so it'll take an estimated 80 years to finish. The pipes' life expectency is about 80 years, so once this project is done, they'll have to start all over.
"It's an ongoing project. It's like painting the Golden Gate Bridge," said Wadlow.
The district's water supply is in good shape. They get 40 percent of their water from the Alameda Creek watershed. Another 40 percent comes from the State Water Project. The final 20 percent is Hetch Hetchy Reservoir water purchased from San Francisco.
All three water systems have above normal water supplies for this time of year.
EBMUD's water supply also looks good. The district's report this week shows that its reservoirs are at almost 80 percent capacity with the typically wet months of January and February still ahead.
More than 600,000 acre-feet of water is in the reservoirs. That's more water than the district typically uses in a two-year period.
Charles Hardy, EBMUD spokesman, said the district is still conservative when it comes to water usage. He notes you never want to assume rain and snow will continue to fall.
"Mother Nature is in charge at the end of the day," he said.
During the past two years, EBMUD's rates have risen 6 percent on each July 1. The board usually holds hearings in the spring and then votes in May whether to raise rates. It's not known yet what they'll do this year.
"We don't have a set rule that rates go up," Hardy said.
However, Hardy said water may be free, but distributing it to the district's 1.3 million customers isn't. He said water service is an expensive industry with the cost of chemicals, fuel, salaries, equipment and pipe repair all on the rise.
He notes EBMUD is a public entity with no profit margin and no shareholder dividends.
"The rates are a real number for us to do business," he said.
Contra Costa Water District officials say they face similiar pressures in delivering drinkable water. The district board approved a 3.5 percent hike last week, noting a six percent increase in operating costs.
The district gets most of its water from the San Joaquin Delta, so there's never a shortage of liquid. The big issue in the CCWD is how salty the water will be. In dry years, saline ocean water pushes farther inland.
Jennifer Allen, district spokeswoman, said so far this year CCWD's water supply is in healthy shape.
"It's looking good," she said.