The Montecito Water District Board of Directors plans to increase water rates for all customers, with the water-shortage-emergency surcharge taking effect April 1, if formally approved after a public hearing.
The move is the latest in a long line of attempts by the district to encourage customer conservation while trying to bolster its water supplies during the drought.
Left without much groundwater to pump during the ongoing drought, the district has turned to buying supplemental water, exploring building a desalination plant, and implementing rationing with penalties for all water use.
The proposed surcharge would be temporary, put in place until the district’s water supply is normal again and it has recovered its water-shortage-emergency expenses, which include buying supplemental water.
Water sales, to customers in Montecito and Summerland, have decreased 50 percent compared to the 2013-14 water year, which runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30, according to a report from consultant Bartle Wells Associates, which specializes in water rates.
The increased rate would be a surcharge per 100-cubic-feet of water, or 748 gallons, for all customers. District rates are already tiered, so customers who use more water in Tier 4 are paying more money per HCF than the low users in Tier 1.
Rationing and penalties from Ordinance 93 are still in effect, general manager Tom Mosby noted.
Single-family residences were the highest users before rationing went into effect, and the penalties have had an effect on water sales.
In addition to the drought-related expenses, the district needs to increase fees to make up for the fact it is selling less water, according to Bartle Wells.
In a presentation to the board Tuesday, Bartle Wells consultants said 30 percent more customers are in the Tier 1 category, using zero to 25 HCF per month, than before rationing began.
That has a big impact on conservation and the district’s bottom line, which is why the board approved moving forward with the maximum surcharge allowed by law, 40 percent. For district customers, that’s $4.16 per HCF added to water bills.
There will be a Proposition 218 public hearing before final approval.
Montecito wants to buy 2,700 acre-feet of water and could get the whole amount in just one deal if this goes through, Mosby said.
This exchange agreement would have Montecito return the same amount of water over a 10-year period and pay $500 per acre-foot now, Mosby said.
Mosby plans to use this water for the 2015-16 water year, when the district is looking at a shortfall, but wants to move the water into Lake Cachuma as soon as possible instead of banking it at another reservoir.
There is risk with this investment, since there’s always a chance that Lake Cachuma will spill over the dam if the area gets a lot of rain. The purchase is estimated to cost $3.9 million including delivery and treatment costs, Mosby said.
“We have several million dollars at stake that could be lost with a big-time rain,” director Richard Shaikewitz said. “The first water over the dam is purchased water.”