What's at stake?
The narrowly avoided price hike could have made El Porvenir's water bills some of the highest in the state.
A rural, debt-burdened west Fresno County community successfully blocked a proposed a $160-dollar increase to their monthly water rates.
On Tuesday, residents of El Porvenir fended off a rate increase that would have raised their base monthly water fees by 154%, from $104.21 to $264.78.
The decision took place in a Fresno County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday following a protest hearing on the proposed rate increases.
State law requires public agencies to hold a public hearing and provide property owners with an opportunity to protest new rates. If there is a majority protest, the board must abandon the price increase proceedings.
County officials said the proposed increases in water service fees were recommended to help provide necessary funds for the operations and maintenance of the current water systems.
County staff reported Tuesday that a majority of residents submitted protest letters opposing the rate increases in El Porvenir. Out of a possible 56 protest letters, county staff received 31 protest letters.
The proposed water rates of $264.78 may have been “the highest water rates in the state,” Mariana Alvarenga, Policy Advocate with Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability said during public comment during Tuesday’s meeting.
“For at least a decade, water affordability in El Porvenir has been a community priority,” she said. “For years residents have asked for a detailed explanation and solution for their mountain water dam and have urged the county to forgive this debt as allowed by state law.”
Meanwhile, Fresno County Board of Supervisors lowered rates for Cantua Creek residents, whose new monthly base rate will drop from $70.34 to $59.12. Only one out of 81 Cantua Creek residents submitted a protest letter for the proposed new fees.
According to an analysis of Cantua Creek’s water rates prepared for the Department of Public Works, some operational costs were expected to drop. Maintenance and repair costs, for example, are expected to drop since old water facilities will be replaced with new equipment.
The new water rates go into effect on Mar. 1, 2023.
New water infrastructure projects under way
Cantua Creek and neighboring El Porvenir are county service areas – special districts governed by the county’s board of supervisors. The high-poverty, majority Latino farmworker communities have long struggled to pay their water bills – as they currently pay market rate prices for surface water from the Westlands Water District.
Water bills often come out to over $100 per month, which many residents struggle to pay. The communities have long struggled with debt as a result of the high costs of water.
Last year, residents asked the board to use federal stimulus funds to help pay off their water debt, but the county refused, saying that debt payment wasn’t a proper use of the funds.
The county is in the process of constructing new groundwater supply and distribution infrastructure projects for El Porvenir and Cantua Creek, which are expected to go live in March 1, 2025.