Tuesday, January 23 , 2018, 4:13 pm | Fair 67º


Local News

Montecito Water District Wants Rationing Plan ‘Cleaned Up’ Before Adopting It

Board members will take up the proposal again at a special meeting Friday; officials say cutbacks are necessary to avoid running dry by summer

There was a heightened sense of urgency at Tuesday’s Montecito Water District Board of Directors meeting, but members delayed voting on a proposed rationing plan

Some of them had concerns with the wording of the proposed ordinance and want it “cleaned up” before it’s adopted.

They set a special meeting on the matter for 9:30 a.m. Friday at the Montecito Fire Protection District headquarters, 595 San Ysidro Road.

Tuesday’s meeting at the Montecito Library was packed with concerned citizens.

Over a two-week period, the water district has declared a shortage, implemented water-use restrictions and put together a rationing plan. It’s the harshest reaction among South Coast water agencies because the area’s in bad shape; the district fully expects to be bone-dry by August if consumption rates stay the same.

The district wants to start rationing so there will be enough water available next year for indoor uses including drinking, health and sanitation.

The next water year starts Oct. 1, and the proposed rationing, or “allocation plan,” would cut water use by 30 percent in the current year.

General Manager Tom Mosby said the district is exploring buying water, and wants Santa Barbara to reactivate its desalination plant so Montecito can partner up again.

He said there is no water to be purchased at any price right now, but the district is working on it.

Since there hasn’t been enough voluntary conservation, the district is looking to adopt a rationing plan.

Board members are supportive, but had enough questions about the ordinance to delay a decision until Friday, when they’re expected to adopt the rationing plan.

There are different cuts proposed for commercial, institutional, agricultural and residential customers since they all use water differently.

The 37 agriculture customers are hit the hardest, partly because they get lower rates and didn’t pay into the State Water Project, according to district staff.

Single-family residences use the most water, and just 5 percent of customers — about 200 accounts — use 25 percent of the water.

Those people will be the targets of outreach campaigns to conserve since it will make such a big difference, Mosby said.

Half of the single-family residential customers already use less than the amount proposed for rationing — 300 HCF (hundred cubic feet) per year.

The district proposes giving extra water for landscape watering on a per-acre basis, but many people objected to that idea.

In an emergency situation like this, there shouldn’t be any water allocated for “non-essential” uses, some commenters said.

There are three customers who use 92 acre-feet between them last year — that’s almost 30 million gallons. One account is a 6-acre property, one is a 20-acre property and one is a 40-acre property, according to district data. 

By comparison, those three homes combined used more water than every institutional customer and commercial customers except one, a resort hotel. 

“It’s almost as if they’re in a bubble,” Mosby said.

They’re overusing water for outdoor landscaping, and the district will be in touch with people like this to make them aware how severe the drought situation is, he said.

Board members will make final decisions on the amount-per-customer at Friday’s meeting, but president Darlene Bierig said “there’s a big likelihood that we will have to adjust it downwards” in the future.

Allocations could increase if the district finds supplemental water supplies or be cut if it doesn’t rain or people don’t comply with the rationing.

Customers would be penalized $30 per HCF (738 gallons) they go over in April and $45 per HCF in May and beyond.

If people go over their allocation by 25 percent and refuse to cooperate, the district can install a flow restrictor (to limit flow and pressure) and even shut off the water service.

Both of those things happened during the last drought, Mosby said.

Montecito and Summerland customers asked the district to impose harsher restrictions, saying the allocations were too generous. They asked the district to cut all non-essential rations altogether, and to educate the public about water-saving tips.

One woman argued that property values would go down if all landscaping died, but every other speaker advocated for harsher water cuts. 

“As to property values, lawns and trees will be worth nothing if we have nothing to drink,” Jonathon Rodriguez said.

He was also skeptical that a financial penalty would make customers comply, especially in such an affluent area.

Some homeowners won’t notice or care about a $4,000 monthly penalty on their bill, he said.

It’s already a problem in that area, and a big reason the block-rate structure didn’t decrease demand.

Those rate structures are designed to incentivize conservation, with lower rates for lower usage, but people with multi-million-dollar estates don’t tend to care if they have a huge water bill, Mosby has said.

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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