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San Dieguito Water District bills to increase

A resident aims to save water with a drought-proof front yard. The San Dieguito Water District board approved higher rates following a state mandate to cut water use.
( / Jared Whitlock)

Following a state mandate to cut water use, the San Dieguito Water District board last week voted to increase rates.

The average residential customer receives a $122.13 water bill bi-monthly. Come August when the rate hike takes effect, this will increase 9.3 percent to $133.45, assuming water use stays the same. Even with the higher rates, the same customer who cuts back 28 percent would see their bill decrease 18 percent to $100.15.

Bill O’Donnell, general manager of the district, said the drought rates intend to “incentivize conservation,” along with stabilizing the district’s budget to make up for lost water sales.

Heavy water users will see sharper rate increases, while there’s less of a rate jump for those who use little water.

San Dieguito district staff proposed higher “drought rates” in response to the State Water Resources Control Board, which recently ordered water agencies to slash use. The mandated cuts range from 4 percent to 36 percent.

The San Dieguito District’s assigned target is 28 percent, while the neighboring Olivenhain Municipal Water District must reduce use by 36 percent.

The new rates will also hit agriculture and commercial customers. However, recycled water won’t be subject to the increase, because that’s considered a “drought proof” source, according to the staff report.

Under the new state rules, water districts that repeatedly fail to achieve their reduction targets over time could be fined up to $10,000 a day. State officials will look at 2013 water consumption as a baseline to determine whether agencies are meeting assigned cutbacks.

As another way to save water, the board’s motion also approved limiting landscape watering starting June 1 to two days a week. Currently, the restriction is three days a week.

Houses with even numbered addresses can irrigate on Tuesday and Friday, while its Monday and Thursday for odd numbered homes. For multi-family dwellings and non-residential properties, it’s Monday and Thursday.

And the board voted 3-2 to move from a Level 2 drought status to Level 3 effective immediately, with board members Kristin Gaspar and Mark Muir opposed.

Muir said the San Dieguito district is unlikely to achieve significant water savings from going to Level 3, and he stated it would be confusing for customers given that the Olivenhain district is at Level 2.

On top of Level 2 restrictions like the ban on watering landscaping during the day, Level 3 requires that residents repair water leaks within 48 hours, rather than the current 72-hour rule. It also bans filling up ornamental ponds. And it mandates that people stop washing their cars, except at commercial carwashes that use recycled water.

“You could have half the city washing their cars and the other half not washing their cars,” Muir said.

Board member Lisa Shaffer said that going to Level 3 is in line with the district’s drought ordinance. The staff report, which recommended Level 3, says that Level 2 is looking for a 20 percent reduction, but Level 3 is warranted since the district’s reduction target is higher.

“It seems that if we have this ordinance that has these guidelines, we ought to follow them,” Shaffer said.

The San Dieguito district serves the western half of Encinitas, with the Olivenhain district covering the rest of the city. The Olivenhain district’s board also recently voted to increase rates. The average Olivenhain district resident uses 22 units of water a month, resulting in a $111.10 monthly bill, which is due to increase 3.2 percent to $114.64.


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