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Monday, December 10 , 2018, 5:50 am | Fair 50º

 
 
 
 

Santa Barbara City Council Approves Another Wave of Water Rate Increases As Drought Continues

Vote includes a moratorium on the 30-percent extra charge collected from water service customers who live outside city limits

Santa Barbara city water customer Ted Tedesco, who lives outside city limits, spoke during public comment at Tuesday’s City Council meeting about the 30-percent charge levied on unincorporated customers like him. The council voted to place a moratorium on that charge, for now.
Santa Barbara city water customer Ted Tedesco, who lives outside city limits, spoke during public comment at Tuesday’s City Council meeting about the 30-percent charge levied on unincorporated customers like him. The council voted to place a moratorium on that charge, for now. (Sam Goldman / Noozhawk photo)

Santa Barbara officials have regularly praised city residents for their water conservation rate during what’s now starting to be considered the worst California drought on record.

But a downside to the low water usage is the city's lower revenues for its water department.

In part of its response, the City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to raise the city’s 2016-17 fiscal year water rates after a public hearing for the proposed increases.

“This clearly has been a real challenge for the city as a whole, to confront these issues and the water rates in the midst of one of the real surges in cost and one of the surges in workload for our staff,” Councilman Bendy White said. “And I think that we’re making the best of this situation for this year.”

According to city water resources staff, customers can expect to see the changes on their water bills as soon as Sept. 10.

The city’s rates are divided between different residential and commercial classes and in tiers based on how much water each type of property uses.

The increases vary from a few pennies — such as that for the water bills for irrigating parks and schools — to roughly 33 percent, such as that for a single-family residential property that uses more than four hundred-cubic-feet of water during a given billing period.

In addition to the revenue impacts from conservation, the drought has been depleting the region’s local water supplies and the city has been purchasing out-of-area supplemental water. 

The capacity of Lake Cachuma, the primary surface water supply for the South Coast, was at 9.4 percent capacity as of Monday, according to the county.

“As one of the leaders in the California Urban Water Conservation Council, the city does meet this requirement that 70 percent or more of our revenue is generated from volumetric charges,” water supply manager Kelley Dyer told the council.

“And this really allows our customers to control their water bill — a low water user will have a lower water bill, and a high water user will have a higher water bill.”

The impact of Santa Barbara’s adopted water rate increases are shown with examples of bills for single-family customers using different amounts of water. Click to view larger
The impact of Santa Barbara’s adopted water rate increases are shown with examples of bills for single-family customers using different amounts of water.  (Santa Barbara photo)

Dyer added that periodic adjustments become necessary because, while the city’s water-related revenues fluctuate with consumption, most of the its water-related costs are fixed.

Water resources staff projected that, with the newly adopted rates, the city would take in about $43 million in revenue for the current fiscal year, which began July 1.

To minimize the drought’s effects on customers’ water rates, more than $7 million in reserve funds are being spent during the new fiscal year.

According to Dyer, Santa Barbara’s low-use rates are still much lower than those of the Carpinteria Valley Water District and the Montecito Water District.

For medium use rates, Santa Barbara and the water districts of Goleta, Carpinteria and Montecito are all roughly similar, and for high water users, the city is the highest in the region.

As part of adopting the new rates, the council approved city staff’s recommendation to place a moratorium on the extra 30 percent charged to customers who live outside the city boundaries.

Unincorporated residents are charged the extra 30 percent, Dyer said, because they tend to have larger properties, often in hillier areas, that require more water to landscape and extra piping and infrastructure to bring the water in the first place — which all cost the city more money.

The moratorium, Dyer added, is needed to further review how to adjust those rates to recover the extra costs of serving unincorporated customers.

A handful of residents from the unincorporated area turned out in support of making that moratorium permanent, arguing that customers outside the city limits should have more participation and representation in the rate-adjustment process.

They said the extra landscaping they’re paying for is a benefit to the community as a whole and provides better fire protection for the area.

One way the city is looking to address its water supply issues is by reactivating the Charles E. Meyer Desalination Plant, located at 525 E. Yanonali St. and scheduled to be operational in late January at a capacity of 3,125 acre-feet per year.

Currently, the city is negotiating with the Montecito Water District to share the plant’s production. 

“Right now, we have the rough outline of a water sales agreement,” water resources manager Joshua Haggmark told the council.

On Tuesday, the City Council voted to approve a funding agreement with the Montecito Water District for work associated with the development of the water sales agreement — work that includes legal, engineering and permitting support for the process drafting the water sales agreement document.

Santa Barbara has been the party pulling together the resources for the water sales agreement, Haggmark said, and the funding agreement, which could be thought of as a reimbursement agreement, is effectively the Montecito Water District pitching in financially to keep negotiating toward a final water sales agreement.

The Montecito Water District’s contribution to the ongoing agreement process will be just under $194,000.

As part of continuing the negotiations with Montecito, the council also approved $150,000 for a contract with Best, Best & Krieger for legal support drafting the water sales agreement, as well as $425,000 for a contract with Carollo Engineers for technical support services related to the agreement.​

Noozhawk staff writer Sam Goldman 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.

The Santa Barbara City Council approved the proposed water rate increases Tuesday, with two changes. The residential Tier 1 was lowered to $4.56/HCF from $4.89/HCF and the commercial Tier 1 rate was lowered to $6.28 HCF from $7.88/HCF. Click to view larger
The Santa Barbara City Council approved the proposed water rate increases Tuesday, with two changes. The residential Tier 1 was lowered to $4.56/HCF from $4.89/HCF and the commercial Tier 1 rate was lowered to $6.28 HCF from $7.88/HCF.  (Santa Barbara photo)

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