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Stage set for Encinitas water rate hike

A low water-use yard in Encinitas, where water rates are likely to increase. Reasons cited include low water levels at Lake Hodges, and conservation resulting in a drop in water sales.
(Photo by Jared Whitlock)

A rate increase appears to be on tap in the San Dieguito Water District.

The Encinitas City Council, in its role as the San Dieguito district board, voted 3-2 in favor of hiking rates over the next five years. Under the plan, the average resident’s bill would go up 5.9 percent starting next February and up to 5.9 percent in 2017.

A final board vote on whether to adopt the increases will be held Jan. 20, after notices of the proposed hike go out to district customers.

Board members Kristin Gaspar, Mark Muir and Tony Kranz backed the proposal over two other rate increase packages that came before the board. Their preferred plan would result in a 29.3 percent compounded hike over five years, the biggest increase of the three options. But it calls for the lowest increase in the first two years.

Muir said he favors the smallest upfront increase, and in later years, reviewing whether the planned increases could be reduced or scrapped. He stated this is because the drought could ease up.

“Personally, I have a problem extending it out four years when we don’t know what’s going to happen next year,” Muir said.

San Dieguito General Manager Bill O’Donnell said the board could adjust rates bi-annually. It may want to do this if El Niño delivers heavy rains and improves the district’s fiscal picture, he added.

According to the plan, the average resident’s monthly bill beginning next February would increase from $65.70 to $69.60, or 5.9 percent. Commercial bills would jump 19.6 percent and agricultural rates would soar 26 percent.

This rate increase is being proposed in light of depleted local water supplies at Lakes Hodges in Escondido. The lack of rainfall in recent years has lowered the lake’s level, forcing the district to stock up on costly imported water.

Also, district revenues are down, because residents have cut water use in response to the state’s mandated drought restrictions. Other factors in the proposed increase include the Carlsbad desalination plant coming online and the rising cost of imported water.

Water districts across San Diego County have recently raised rates for similar reasons.

Board member Lisa Shaffer and board President Catherine Blakespear supported staff’s proposal, an 8.4 percent increase on the average residential bill in 2016 and up to 8.4 percent in 2017. This option would also pay down pension liabilities in 20 years versus 30 years, saving $2.7 million, according to a staff report.

Shaffer said water supplies are unlikely to significantly rebound long-term in light of climate change.

“It’s better to bite the bullet and get it done and move toward a more sustainable future,” she said. Shaffer added that the board’s preferred option “draws out pension liabilities.”

The San Dieguito Water District serves western Encinitas, and the other half of the city falls under the Olivenhain Municipal Water District.


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