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Water, Sewer, Public Health & Safety


Water, Sewer - Ensuring Public Health and Safety:

A Safer Millbrae:

  • Water infrastructure is vital to protect our community’s health and safety.  

  • Working to keep the public more informed on the reasons behind rate increases and essential needs to replace crumbling pipes. 

  • Increasing  efficiencies to expedite the upgrades of our aging water pipes: 63 miles of which are 10-15 years beyond their 50-year lifespan.

  • Refinancing the cost of the bonds used to pay for many water and/or sewer system repairs to date, to reduce the costs to residents and  potentially saving $3 million on existing debt.

  • Working with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, our water supplier, to reduce the pace of rate increases- the largest increase in costs for consumers. 

  • Working with developers to reduce system wide costs, replacing and upgrading sewer and water infrastructure in their development area.

  • Incentivizing conservation of water, beautifying landscapes & preventing pollutant runoff, including: 

  • Offering rebates for sprinkler controllers, rain barrels, cisterns, and replacing lawns with native & drought tolerant plants.

City of Millbrae Water Rates FAQ:

Why are water rates so high in Millbrae?


There are several variables that make up the cost of water, which includes purchasing water from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC), operating and maintenance costs, as well as capital improvements.


The City buys 100% of its water from the SFPUC. Since 2013, the SFPUC has increased the City’s wholesale water rates by 67%. Because the City did not pass these rate increases to residents until 2017, funding reserves that pay for the system’s operations, repairs and upgrades were depleted.


The City started adjusting its water rates in October 2017 due to substantial increases in the SFPUC’s wholesale water rates and to pay for the City’s ongoing capital improvement projects. This includes paying to replace the City’s aging water mains. Before the rate increase, the City was operating in deficit mode as revenues had fallen substantially below the cost of the provided services.


Millbrae’s water main pipes had a 50-year life span, and while still functioning safely, they are currently 10 to 15 years beyond their useful life. The 2017 rate increase allowed the City to build up enough funds to begin an annual water main replacement program as well as begin its water tank replacement project. In addition, the City’s water operations and maintenance includes testing of water purity, flushing the system to maintain water quality, and repairs to and replacement of water meters and other apparatus.


What is the cost for water main replacement? 


Roughly, the City pays $1.5 million per mile ($284/ft) for a six-inch PVC main line at an average depth of three feet. The cost includes design, construction management, trench restoration, and repaving. The City has replaced approximately 10% of its water main pipeline. It has approximately 63 more miles of water main lines that need to be replaced at a cost of more than $90 million according to engineering estimates.


What is the cost to the City as a result of water main breaks?

There are two primary costs associated with water main breaks: 1) water loss, and 2) water main repair.


The City addresses 12-15 breaks a year. With each water main break, the average water loss is 80,000 gallons. This results in about 1.2 million gallons of total water loss each year. The annual direct cost of losing the water is about $6,500 at $4.10/ccf (ccf =748 gallons) with a retail cost of $16,682 at $10.40/ccf annually. 


In addition to the water loss, water main break repairs are very costly. The average cost to repair a water main break ranges between $45,000 and $60,000. This includes labor, asphalt repaving, concrete, traffic control, and other materials. In total, the cost to repair water main breaks could be as high as $750,000 with 15 breaks a year.


What is the cost of meter reading and the estimated cost to install smart meters?

The City’s existing meter reading cost is about $8,000 a month or $96,000 annually. The City’s Public Works Department has looked at smart meters and found the cost to be prohibitively expensive. 


In 2017, Hillsborough paid about $591 per smart meter. Adjusting for 3% inflation to 2020 current dollars, the cost per smart meter would be about $646. The City has about 6,600 water meters. When multiplied by $646 the total cost is $4,263,600. This doesn’t include technology investments (software and hardware) that would need upgrading as well as some meter boxes that would have to be reconfigured. A reasonable contingency is 15%. Adding in this contingency, the total cost is estimated at $4,903,140. This is based on the most recent actual smart meter cost and installation project in the area per Hillsborough’s report.


Why is the City reviewing water rates?


Best practices dictate that every five years municipalities study their utility rates. The item on the October 13, 2020, City Council agenda was to retain a consultant to study Millbrae’s water and sewer rates as well as the possibility of storm drain fees. Storm drain infrastructure was designated a utility pursuant to Proposition 218 by the California State Legislature. The item on the City Council meeting agenda was to simply hire a consultant to study rates and not to discuss the rates themselves.


Why doesn’t the City have tiered water rates?


In 2015, the California Supreme Court ruled that it is illegal for municipalities to charge various or tiered rates based on the amount of water used. This is a published court decision which means it has established a precedent. Several attorneys and law firms challenged the Court’s decision in an effort to avoid this precedent. The Court ruled against this argument and the published decision remains as current law. City leaders understand that some entities have not changed their practice in defiance of the California Supreme Court’s precedent and are simply waiting for a challenge in their specific jurisdiction.

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