By Christoffer Anthony, Special to Riptide
Pacificans should be interested to learn that the City of Pacifica appears to incorrectly calculate its annual sewer charge. I will briefly summarize the main points as I understand them.
The city calculates the annual sewer charge based on each residence’s water use. Up front, it's important to know that all Pacificans have the same six bimonthly water billing periods for any sewer charge (February-March, April-May, June-July, August-September, October-November, December-January), irrespective of when meters are read for any bill period.
At issue is whether the "two consecutive highest rainfall months" methodology used by the city is a correct restatement of the "bi-monthly water billing period of highest rainfall" as found in the Municipal Code.
According to the Municipal Code, the city must compare each residence’s total water consumption for the year to six times its water consumption in the "bi-monthly water billing period of highest rainfall". Then the lower of the two values is multiplied by the predetermined sewer rate to arrive at the sewer charge.
The main idea behind this rationale is that during the water billing period of highest rainfall, irrigation should be lower, and so water consumed should more nearly match actual sewage produced. Residents with low water consumption (and lower actual sewage produced) pay the minimum amount, or about $580 for the most recent sewer charge year.
For the most recent sewer charge shown in the figure below (Sewer Charge Methodology Errors), the city did not select the "bi-monthly water billing period of highest rainfall". Instead, it used the "two consecutive highest rainfall months" of November 13 and December 13, which totaled 1.26 inches of rain; since these two consecutive months bridge two different water billing periods (October-November & December-January), the city selected one of the two (December-January) for multiplication by 6.
But neither October-November (0.91 inches) nor December-January (0.36 inches) represent the "water billing period of highest rainfall". According to the Municipal Code, since the "water billing period of highest rainfall" was February-March (1.16 inches), each residence’s water use in February-March should have been chosen in the calculation.
The city has not selected the correct water billing period in three of the past five years, as shown in the Five Year History at the bottom of the figure below. Rainfall totals for the city’s chosen bill periods are ranked and compared to the correct bill periods; note the years for which the city has selected the bill periods of third-highest or fourth-highest rainfall.
For the two years in which the city correctly calculated the sewer charge, note that the "two consecutive highest rainfall months" coincided with the "water billing period of highest rainfall". Pacificans whose water use was lower in the "water billing period of highest rainfall" than in either the city's chosen bill period or the annual consumption were overcharged.
To the city's credit, I have independently checked the rainfall data from the city's chosen source (www.ncdc.noaa.gov) and have found no discrepancies. Municipal Code references may be found in Sections 6-6.407(a) and (b), and I urge Pacificans to read them (www.municode.com/library/ca/pacifica/codes/code_of_ordinances; see Title 6).
I will gladly discuss this issue in greater depth with anyone who's interested. Please contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org