Hoopa Valley PUD Moves to Raise Water Rates

Hoopa Valley Public Utilities District (HVPUD) uses large filters at the Water Treatment Plant to remove particles from the water before pumping it out to homes and businesses. / Photo by Kristan Korns, Two Rivers Tribune

By KRISTAN KORNS, Two Rivers Tribune

The Hoopa Valley Public Utilities District (HVPUD) proposed changes to the water rate structure that would see monthly charges for regular users increase by 56 percent, from $16 to $25, along with an 81 percent increase for elders, from $11 to $20.

Barbara Ferris, HVPUD general manager, said the rate increase was necessary to maintain services and to keep the system financially sustainable.

“We have the lowest water rates in the county, and maybe even the United States,” Ferris said. “We don’t even get half of what we spend on the system from fees.”

Regular users in the Hoopa Valley currently get 10,000 gallons of water for $16 per month, and elders get 5,000 gallons for $11.

The proposed increases to $25 for regular customers and $20 for elders would leave Hoopa’s water rates around one-third lower than nearby communities.

Debbie Mace, office manager for Orleans Community Service District (CSD), said that their basic rate is $35 for 10,000 gallons. Orleans CSD employs two full-time and two-part-time employees.

“My rate’s been $35 for quite a while; at least 10 years,” Mace said.

In Willow Creek, the minimum monthly charge for water users is based on the size of their meter with  the lowest cost set at $36.30 per month with 750 cubic feet of water (around 5,610 gallons) included.

Willow Creek users are also charged $1.65 for each additional 100 cubic feet (748 gallons), so someone using 10,000 gallons a month there would pay around $46, or nearly triple what Hoopa water users currently pay for that amount of water.

Lonnie Danel, Willow Creek Community Service District (WCCSD) manager, said the rates help cover the water district’s yearly operating costs of around $750,000 and provide jobs for three full-time and two part-time employees.

“We’ll be adding a fourth full-time person soon,” Danel said.

The HVPUD serves more customers over a larger geographic area than the service district in Willow Creek, and makes do with much less.

Ferris said, “We pick up only around $200,000 from fees and our yearly budgets are over $500,000 to just under $600,000.”

“We can’t do any kind of equipment purchases because we don’t have the money. It’s just so difficult to operate when you don’t have the funds,” Ferris said.

Sixteen people work for Hoopa’s Public Utilities District; four at the water treatment plant, two in the main office, three at the solid waste transfer station, four on the seasonal construction crew, and three working on irrigation projects.

The Hoopa Valley Tribal Council voted to route the proposed water rate increases through the Legislative Procedures Act (LPA) process, and a public hearing is scheduled for 6 pm on Thursday, December 12.

Ferris said, “We never went through the LPA process for rate increases before. The bad thing about the LPA process is that it’s not based on the operation of the business but on politics.”

Tribal Council members who talked with the TRT seemed to have differing opinions on the proposed water rate increase.

Vice Chairman Ryan Jackson said, “I’m in favor of the increase. It’ll still be far below the average cost in the surrounding communities.”

Councilmember Marjorie Colegrove said, “With the number of people we have who are barely making ends meet, my personal feeling is that I don’t want tribal members to have to pay that top rate.”

“We’re here to protect our tribal people and look out for their best interests,” Colegrove said. “If they need to raise rates to maintain the system, they should charge non-tribal members.”

Councilmember Shane McCullough said, “Right now, we’re below half of the average rates in the area.”

“Looking at the numbers, the water rate increase is a must,” McCullough said. “We’re all aware that we don’t want to put a burden on people, but this is a necessity.”

Colegrove urged people to go to the public hearing. “If they don’t want their rates to increase they have to speak up.”

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