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Montecito District Ends Water Allocation, Penalty Program

Agency is still targeting 30-percent conservation from its customers

Montecito Water District general manager Nick Turner explains Ordinance 95, which repeals the agency’s water allocation and penalty program, at Wedneday’s board meeting. Click to view larger
Montecito Water District general manager Nick Turner explains Ordinance 95, which repeals the agency’s water allocation and penalty program, at Wedneday’s board meeting.  (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)

Feeling good after the winter’s rains, the Montecito Water District board of directors has decided to eliminate its allocation and penalty programs and downgrade to a Stage 2 water shortage emergency.  

The district suspended penalties in March for people who used more than their allocated amount of water in a billing cycle, but Wednesday’s action to approve Ordinance 95 officially ends the mandated conservation.

Santa Barbara County is still in a moderate drought, and the district is still targeting 30-percent conservation, compared to the 2013 water demand baseline.

Board members did discuss allowing limited new meters for non-emergency purposes such as new building, perhaps through a lottery system, but approved the ordinance unchanged.

Customers can maintain their swimming pool and spa levels, but can’t drain and refill them without written authorization from the district, which is permitted every five years.

The ordinance also exempts agricultural customers from the outdoor irrigation watering hours.

Montecito has been getting more deliveries from Lake Cachuma, Jameson Lake and the State Water Project, while customer demand has been trending at 3,400 acre-feet per year, general manager Nick Turner said.

Board members also noted the district's pursuits of reliable, local water supplies including groundwater banking and recycled water.

The district has enough supplies to meet its sales target of 4,000 acre-feet per year through 2020 unless it uses some of its stored water to repay more of its water debt, from purchasing and exchanging water with other agencies during the drought.

If the district uses its stored water to repay that debt, or loses it if San Luis Reservoir spills and it can’t be moved, Montecito would have to purchase water in 2018, Turner said.

Depending on how this winter goes, and how much water people use without limitations, the district may loosen water restrictions or have to reinstate allocations and penalties, according to Turner.  

Goleta and Santa Barbara water agencies are at Stage 3 water shortage emergencies.

Goleta’s newsletters have been warning customers that one above-average rainfall year didn’t end the drought.

Santa Barbara ended its lawn watering ban in March, but still has water-use restrictions in effect.

Water loss adjustment policy approved

One result of the penalty system was high bills and hundreds of appeals, all heard by a board committee.

Allocations are a thing of the past now, but the district wants a way for people to protest high water bills caused by leaks, vandalism or other issues, said business manager Tom Sheil.

The board on Wednesday approved a water loss adjustment policy, in which customers can submit a request to district staff.

If granted, the district would bill the water overage at a lower rate and forgive its surcharge. The difference between the original bill and lower bill would be credited to the customer’s account.

“I don’t think it would be an impediment to overall revenue,” Sheil said during the meeting.

He estimated the district would get requests for about $30,000 in credits per year.  

The district also plans to limit the adjustments to one per account per 24-month period.  

Board members were worried that people could use the system as a loophole — maybe people will fill their pools and claim a “leak” for a lower billed rate — and the district admitted there is no way to detect that.

Customers can submit supporting documentation with their requests though, like water meter logs and invoices for repairs and parts. 

District staff members can also conduct site visits as part of their review, Sheil said. 

Noozhawk managing 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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