The San Diego County Water Authority is expected to propose an increase in water rates paid by the authority’s 24 member agencies in the coming year. The proposed hikes would mark the second annual rate increase since the SDCWA raised rates in 2016.

The agency is suspected to suggest an increase of 6.4 percent for untreated water and 5.9 percent for treated water in 2017. The water comes from a number of sources, including the wholesale Metropolitan Water District, which supplies water to many Southern California counties.

As justification for the proposed rate increases, the SDCWA’s board members cited the higher costs of water supplied by the MWD, the higher cost of desalinated water and, in an ironic twist, conservation efforts that have lowered the agency’s revenue. As San Diego residents do their part during the drought and cut back on water use, the SDCWA’s revenues go down, forcing it to raise prices to stay viable.

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Desalination plants have popped up in Carlsbad and Huntington Beach, but the cost of water from the sea is typically higher than freshwater sources like aquifers and snowpacks.  The SDCWA says it is planning to tap into a Rate Stabilization Fund in order to keep prices down for ratepayers. After the SDCWA holds a public hearing on the proposed rate increases it will put the proposal up for a vote on June 23.

Ratepayers may protest that conservation is not in their best interests if the SDCWA goes ahead with the proposed rate increases. According to the SDCWA’s own numbers, water consumers in San Diego County cut back total water use by 23 percent in April compared to April 2013. That beat the state-mandated target for water conservation by a wide margin. Sacramento asked San Diego to reduce its water consumption by 13 percent compared with 2013. The state had earlier cut back that requirement from 20 percent after a new water desalination plant came online in Carlsbad.

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The Chairman of the SDCWA, Mark Weston, said that San Diego residents and businesses continue to do more than is asked to combat the drought. But conservation is not going to pay off for ratepayers if the SDCWA goes ahead with its planned rate hike in June.

Nevertheless, Weston said that San Diego must keep a water conservation mindset heading into the dry summer months, but beginning in June the State Water Board will start letting communities tailor their responses to the drought to meet the specific conditions in their area.

The new policy comes after a statewide assessment of water supply conditions, which received a major boost from rain and snow brought to Northern California by this year’s El Nino. The SDCWA says its working with its 24 member agencies to assess water supplies and come up with a county-specific drought plan before June.

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(all data current as of 10/18/2017)

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