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Local News

Goleta Water District Proposes Plan to Increase Rates, Implement Drought Surcharge Fee

The Goleta Water District plans to raise its water rates and adopt a drought surcharge for all of its customers so the agency can pay for increased costs and compensate for dropping sales.

The Board of Directors unanimously supported a plan that increases water rates and levies a drought surcharge model that charges the same dollar amount, per unit of water, to all customers.

It’s the same surcharge model adopted by the Montecito Water District, with the same fee per unit applied to the highest and lowest water users. Goleta’s model would increase with each drought stage. Stage 3, which the district plans to declare in May, would bring with it a $2.60-per-HCF (hundred cubic feet) surcharge.

Goleta’s highest users will see the biggest impact to their bills with the changes, which are meant to encourage more conservation. The plan proposes implementing these new rates, surcharges and fees on July 1 and then raising those amounts by 3 percent for the 2016-17 year and by 4 percent every year after.

The drought surcharge would be eliminated after the drought is over, general manager John McInnes said.

The district’s proposed plan also funds three capital projects aimed to increase conservation: replacing small meters that may “under-register” water use; distributing 50-gallon rain barrels to catch and store rainwater; and installing storage tanks to make better use of groundwater well water, according to the district.

The tiered monthly base water rates for customers who use less water are actually expected to drop initially, with the proposed model. Customer classes with low per-unit rates, such as agriculture and recreation irrigation, will see big increases from the new rates and fees.

A flat surcharge to all customers would send the message that agricultural customers need to cut their usage to make supplies last longer, board president Lauren Hanson said. While customers have cut back by more than 20 percent overall, agricultural customers have actually increased use by 25 percent over the last year.

The district will send out notices of the proposed changes and hold a Proposition 218 hearing in June to make a final decision.

About 20 residents showed up to Wednesday’s board meeting, which was moved to the Goleta Union School District headquarters to accommodate more people.

Catherine Epperson said her family’s 300-acre avocado farm has been conserving water through mulching the trees and stumping some of the land — cutting trees down to stumps to temporarily take them out of production.

“Of the 300 acres we farm and own, we have stumped over 100 of them,” she told the board.

Their water costs totaled $218,000 last year and with the proposed increases, that number could more than double to $569,000 next year and potentially put them out of business, she said.

A representative from the Isla Vista Recreation & Park District said the park land has already cut water use by 25 percent but the changes would boost its water bill by 106 percent, which is unaffordable.

It would be “excellent” if the district could bring reclaimed water to Isla Vista, she said.

Several residents asked about ongoing development projects, which are adding hundreds of housing units and more water demand.

The district stopped handing out water entitlements to new developments in September, but there were plenty of projects already on their way to building, district staff said.

The backlog of projects approved before the moratorium is “an unfortunate series of events,” Director Meg West said, adding that the board and City Council will work closer together on this issue in the future.

Someone working at a development project on Patterson Avenue was using a fire hose to keep dust down and “probably used in five minutes more than I’ll use all month,” one Goleta resident said.

Noozhawk news editor 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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