Tuesday, May 22 , 2018, 11:11 am | Partly Cloudy 63º


Local News

Montecito Water District Suspends Overuse Penalties After Boost in Water Supplies

In response to a wetter winter than anyone expected, the Montecito Water District on Tuesday decided to stop penalizing customers who exceed their monthly water allocation.

The change was effective immediately, and includes penalties incurred during March, said district general manager Nick Turner.

The first overage in a given year resulted in a $30 charge per hundred cubic feet of water over a customer’s allocation. Subsequent overages in the same one-year period meant a $45 charge per HCF over allocation, which is based on property size and season.

Turner said about 34 percent of customers were hit with a penalty at least once in 2016, though some were due to accidents like leaks, and could be appealed and overturned. Some, he noted, are incurred by people who don’t mind paying the penalty month after month.

Within the next two months, the board will consider changing or rescinding the regulations imposing the penalties and allocations.

According to the district, its 4,600 customers have averaged a whopping 46-percent conservation rate since 2015, compared to its 2013 water usage. 

The partial replenishment of Lake Cachuma and Jameson Reservoir, two key sources of water for Montecito and Summerland, provided the district with some needed wiggle room.

District staff’s recommendation to suspend penalty enforcement “was backed by a preliminary analysis showing that Montecito Water District has sufficient water supplies to meet customer water demand for the next three years,” the district said in a statement.

The analysis, it noted, was based in part on conservation continuing around 30 percent and “an ongoing critical drought scenario.”

The district is currently in negotiations with Santa Barbara to annually purchase 1,250 acre-feet of water produced by the desalination plant that the city is working to bring online this spring.

“As far as the urgency of completing the deal, (the rains have) definitely provided us with more time,” Turner said. “But as far as the desire to come to an agreement and incorporate desalination into our water portfolio, that has not changed.”

As the Montecito Water District announced the suspension of penalty enforcement, Santa Barbara announced that its lawn-watering moratorium is now voluntary, though other restrictions remain in place.

Santa Barbara officials announced that a water shortage projected for later this year, which prompted the watering ban, disappeared during the winter’s rains.

Both the city and the Montecito Water District emphasized that, despite the laxer rules, conservation is still imperative.

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.

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