Thursday, November 26 , 2015, 10:31 pm | Mostly Cloudy 46º

Santa Barbara Council to Consider Raising Water Rates During Drought

By Giana Magnoli, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @magnoli |

The Santa Barbara City Council will consider raising water rates to compensate for higher capital costs and water purchases during the drought.

If the council supports the new drought rate structure — with increases for every city water customer — it will go into effect for June's water usage.

The city has been pushing for voluntary conservation of 20 percent since January but will probably declare a stage two drought with mandatory restrictions in May.

Late-winter and spring rains weren’t enough to change the water supply outlook, according to water resources director Joshua Haggmark.

There has been a 15 percent drop in usage from when the drought was declared, he told the Water Commission on Monday afternoon. January was “off the charts water usage,” so it was critical to have people change their habits, he said.

About half of the city’s water demand comes from single-family homes, and the conservation focus is on outdoor irrigation, according to water supply analyst Kelley Dyer.

Drought rates would have the biggest impact to big water users, since top-tier usage prices would double. The lowest use, Tier 1, would increase 3 percent for residential customers. Commercial and irrigation customers would have a monthly water budget and get penalized with high rates if they go over the allotted amount.

Water commissioners recommended that the council send drought rate notices to customers and hold a June 10 public hearing.

Commission chairman Russell Ruiz said he was disappointed that the city isn’t talking about raising irrigation water rates for people using recycled water. Those customers would be getting the same potable water as everyone else for a year during the recycled water plant replacement, but they would be paying at a lower rate while everyone else tries to cut back on usage, he said.

It is the third consecutive drought year, and Santa Barbara will be relying on water purchases and higher groundwater well production next year and beyond, since the city expects no State Water Project water coming in.

The desalination facility will be critical for the sixth year if it stays this dry, Haggmark said. The City Council is expected to pick a firm for preliminary design services soon and be able to consider a bid for construction and operation in April 2015. On that timeline, it would be operational in mid-2016 at the earliest.

The proposed water rates don’t include capital costs to get the desalination plant back online, which is estimated to cost $20 million.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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