Preface: Our series on Water Rates in Hillsboro, Oregon, answers a lot of questions as to who pays and how much they pay. Catch up on the topic if you like in the following articles that were written this year:
Water Story #3
In late October, the Hillsboro Utilities Commission officially voted to adopt the new water rates. Those new rates are going to hit Hillsboro households pretty hard. The increases will include an 8.8% increase in residential bills in 2023 and an additional 8.9% in 2024. There was significant public outcry at the hearing and much more in the meetings that preceded it.
Two things really stood out in this last meeting which had been the focus of previous testimony.
- Hillsboro is allowing members of the public to be cut off – severely harming those who are struggling to keep their households going. Cries for a hard and fast mercy rule of a No-Cut-Off policy were prevalent. After all, Hillsboro is one of the richest cities in the State.
- Several citizens provided very salient testimony that big Industry, led by Intel, is the primary user and the primary cause of why we have to increase prices so much. The Hillsboro Water Department never showed graphs to diagram how much water those users consume and how much of the total budget they pay. I personally gave testimony to this point, as did others. All and all, the Water Department and the Commission spoke of how they believe the process is fair and that the formula for rates is hard for the layman to understand. Having said that, none of them totally understand how the rates are derived and allocated. That was the result of a rate study that was done some years back.
Regarding those rates and how we determine them, the City offered this:
As required by law, Hillsboro Water completes a water rate study. The study occurs about every five years and includes a detailed cost-of-service analysis to allocate Hillsboro Water’s costs between all customer categories. Hillsboro Water expenditures are assigned to each customer category based on their use of resources. The goal is to set drinking water rates to recover only the costs related to that customer category and avoid cross-subsidies. After costs are assigned to each category, Hillsboro Water then calculates how much of a drinking water rate adjustment is needed to generate sufficient revenue from each customer category to cover their costs. This is how the Utilities Commission sets rates each year; this is also why rate adjustments may vary between customer categories.
Who is paying, and who is using our water?
The Herald took the information provided during the hearings this Fall and determined the following facts:
Water Rates in Hillsboro
- Residential Rates are Increasing – they have gone up about 100% in the past decade.
- 9% Increase in 2022
- 8.8% in 2023
- 8.9% in 2024
- Industrial Rates are increasing
- 10.5 % Increase in 2023
- 10.5% Increase in 2024
- Usage is
- 3.7 Billion a year for Industrial and Commercial-
- 2.2 Billion for Residential
- 63% of all Usage is Industrial and Commercial
- 37% is Residential
The Herald took the revenue reports the City provided to see if the percentage paid by each user group aligned with consumption. We made up a graph that was not disputed based on 100% factual data we were provided. It looks like this.
Look at that graph. Nothing like it was shown during the hearings and for perhaps obvious reasons. It is not good for Intel, which uses a whopping 48% of all Hillsboro water, for graphs to show this. But that is the fact. Yes, Data Centers use a lot too, but their use percentage is dwarfed by the “Mighty-I.” This revelation would not have come out into the open had our testimony and that of others not made it in front of the Commission. So this is important.
The Hillsboro Water Department did share a graph looking into the future that diagrams water use through 2070 and makes a projection as to who will be using it. If the graph is correct, somewhere around 80% of all water in the future will be consumed by Industry and Commercial. That is an incredible fact and very unusual. Not in Hillsboro, Oregon. We are the jobs engine of the State of Oregon, and if current land expansion talks come to fruition, that legacy will only be expanded.
Why are we paying more?
There are many reasons we are paying more, but the major factor is the financial costs of the Willamette Water Supply Program. This 1.6 Billion dollar project is bringing a 6′ water pipe from the Willamette River in Wilsonville all the way to Hillsboro. That is one whopper of a price tag, and Hillsboro is paying a lot of that cost along with Beaverton and Tualatin Valley Water District. This is the main reason you will all be paying more, and you should all expect a steady rate increase for many years to come.
“We have plenty of water for years to come as it is,” said one man in the auditorium sitting next to me. “Only Industry is running us out. They should pay for these increases.”
That led to the request for the chart below, and you know what? He is right. We have plenty of water for our homes. It appears that only our industries need more water, and yet we are all paying. This point will be debated in the future. I can not argue at all against having great water and lots of water, as the rest of the world seems to be drying up. This is forward-thinking to bring it here. But that does not change what the man said.
Next Up – A New Rate Study
The Herald recorded the closing statements of the Utilities Commission. The group is comprised of John Godsey (Civil Engineer), David Judah (Former Tech Manager), and Debbie Raber (Retired City of Hillsboro Planner). These are very intelligent and thoughtful people, and I have met and interacted with all of them quite a lot over the years. The questions raised seemed to reach them and hit home with them. They thoughtfully listened and debated the testimony offered, and when they voted, they did some very productive things outside of raising the rates, which they really had no choice not to do for several reasons. What they did:
1: Called for a new Rate study. This is in process, and whoever is hired will be given the job of looking at all the costs of delivering water to all customers. It may change the percentages to something that appears more equitable, and maybe it will conclude all things remain the same. One thing is for sure. People will be watching and at the table to see the results, and that is something decidedly new. Local resident Charolyn Concepcion who has an analyst’s mind brought point after point forward. Her research and effort, which continue, were next level. She pointed out the inequity in rates between certain communities and different residential users and asked for fairness. She is working on a review of the 2018 Water Rate Study and will no doubt be involved as the new year comes along.
2: The Commission also directed the Water Board to set aside $150,000 dollars in aid for those citizens who use up all extensions and other assistance. This may be a drop in the bucket, but it is a start, and it was appreciated. That would not have happened had it not been for Western Farm Workers Association showing up in force at the hearings and pleading with the Water Department and City officials. They and their members, many of them perhaps the most at-risk users in Hillsboro, are to be credited for a terrific awareness campaign.
3: The Commissioners assured all in attendance that there will be fairness and equity and that they take their duties very seriously. I want to say that I believe them; I really do. In my experience, people do not come forward and take their time to get involved. This may have been the first hearing in some time where criticism and concern were leveled at them and the Water Department. So I believe we can expect fairness and careful dealing as we go ahead.
Hillsboro as a City, run by the Council and staff we have in City Hall, is full speed ahead. Many citizens feel it is time to take a pause and let our City catch up to the unprecedented growth we have seen. That is not going to happen, folks. Industrial growth is coming in another massive wave, and we must all expect that outsiders will shape our future as much or more than ever. That means more traffic, higher housing costs, increased traffic, and a higher cost of living. But working together and being informed is the right way forward to protect all of us. Fairness and equity is the goal, and we can achieve that if we are truly committed. We will continue to follow this story and others that need to be told for our Hillsboro to be even better!
Western Farm Workers Speak – Parker Berger, Director
Western Farm Workers Association
An increasing number of WFWA members are facing water shutoffs – leaving families without the
ability to wash off harmful chemical residue from working in the fields, to bathe and to cook, in the midst
of the COVID-19 public health crisis. When the City of Hillsboro shuts off water to 80 families each
month who cannot afford their bills, while simultaneously raising the cost of water, they are contributing
to the next public health crisis and violating our human right to water.
It is unacceptable that the cost of infrastructure, which benefits data farms and the tech sector, is
being put onto the backs of low-income workers who are already struggling to pay for basic necessities.
Water is a human right, not a commodity to sell off to the highest bidder.
As climate change warms the planet and drought continues to ravage the West Coast, how is it in
the best interest of the people who live here for our government to be giving tax breaks and other
incentives to attract data farms?
We believe that water used to grow food is a much better use of our most precious resource.
Across Oregon and California, farmers are finding it increasingly difficult to procure sufficient water. Last
summer, farms where WFWA members work lost an average of between 40% and 75% of their blueberry
crop in the extreme heat. Farms with more access to water did not lose blueberries because were able to
do overhead watering. Farm workers, farmers, and the local communities surrounding them depend on
access to clean, affordable water for health and to produce food.