California Survey Shows High Cost of Sewer Service for Small Utilities

Fewer people, higher rates, a state report shows.

By Brett Walton, Circle of Blue – July 26, 2017

Customers of the smallest utilities in California pay more than twice as much for sewer service than residents of the state’s largest cities, according to a rates survey conducted by the State Water Resources Control Board, a state agency.

Median monthly sewer rates for cities of more than 500,000 people are $US 18.93 per month. For communities with fewer than 1,000 people, the median rate is $US 43.00. For cities between 10,000 and 50,000 people the median rate is still twice that of the large urban areas.

Small does not necessarily mean rural, nor does it mean poor. The highest charge in the survey is $US 188.17 per month for the Malibu Water Pollution Control Plant, which serves four condominium complexes in Malibu, an upscale coastal community near Los Angeles where median annual income is $US 130,565.

The 3,300 customers of the Groveland Community Service District, meanwhile, pay an average of $US 101.62 per month. Median household income in the Sierra Nevada foothill community — $US 33,169 per year — is one-fourth that in Malibu.

Nonetheless, the economies of scale that come from building larger systems mean that smaller communities generally pay more per person for sewer service.

The state survey began in 1989 but its frequency has slowed recently as data was collected in only three of the last nine years. Some 565 sewer service providers submitted data in the most recent survey, which corresponds to rates in fiscal year 2016-17.

The map below shows some of the data that utilities reported to the state: average monthly sewer charges, median household income, and population.

Scroll to see average monthly wastewater rates across California.