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OMWD board rejects increased water rates

An efficient sprinkler waters a lawn. Local water districts are using existing staff to enforce drought measures, including watering no more than three days a week.
An efficient sprinkler waters a lawn. Local water districts are using existing staff to enforce drought measures, including watering no more than three days a week.
( / OMWD)

The drought has resulted in mandatory water-use restrictions. A corresponding rate hike, however, won’t take effect for residents in the eastern portion of Encinitas.

The Olivenhain Municipal Water District (OMWD) Board of Directors voted unanimously Aug. 13 against increased rates related to its recent Level 2 drought declaration.

In response to the State Water Resources Control Board requiring mandatory cutbacks from water districts, last month OMWD bumped up its drought status from Level 1 to 2.

That action made suggested Level 1 conservation measures mandatory. Consequently, those who repeatedly irrigate more than three days a week or overwater their lawns face fines.

Board President Larry Watt said Level 2 rules should be enough to decrease customer demand, making a rate hike unnecessary.

“It’s not that we don’t have any water,” Watt said. “The best analogy I’ve heard is related to driving on the freeway. Everybody is driving at 65 miles per hour and using up fuel really fast. We need them to slow down.”

The typical OMWD homeowner uses about 23.5 units of water a month. If the new rate structure had passed, the average bill would have increased $17.39 a month.

For OMWD, moving to Level 2 conservation measures triggered board consideration of higher Level 2 pricing.

Currently, OMWD is at a Level 1 rate structure. Level 2 pricing states bills rise an additional 10 percent for those who don’t water a lot — less than 7 units — and up to 25 percent extra for 44 units or more.

By adopting mandatory water-use restrictions, the board also had the option of charging developers an additional fee for new water meters. The fee is intended to offset potable water demand by allocating the collected money toward recycled water projects or other alternatives.

But the board opposed pursuing the fee, which was $4,500 in 2010, the last time it was in place. According to staff estimates, 510 meters would have potentially been subject to the fee.

Board member Gerald Varty expressed concern over the charge stifling business.

“We’re trying to keep the economy going,” Varty said. “It’s not that strong yet.”

And John Carnegie, OMWD staff analyst, said the district likely doesn’t have a legal case for implementing the fee.

To move forward with the fee, OMWD would have to prove it couldn’t meet water demands. But the agency’s imported water wholesaler hasn’t cut supplies.

SDWD (San Dieguito Water District), which serves the western portion of the city, won’t consider drought rates in the near term, said Bill O’Donnell, assistant general manager of SDWD, two weeks ago.

However, he added the SDWD board could eventually mull over drought rates if a sharp decline in customer demand drives down revenue.

Generally, water districts adopt drought rates to both drive down consumption and make up for lost water sales.

SDWD is also expected to adopt Level 2 conservation measures at its Aug. 20 meeting.

For a full list of Level 2 drought restrictions and more information about rates, visit omwd.org.


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