Aggressive water conservation campaigns throughout Orange County are working, officials say, which, ironically, means water rates are going up.
This Catch-22 is being felt from Fullerton to San Juan Capistrano and city and water leaders say it’s an economic reality they can’t change.
As residents and businesses use less water, water agencies get less income. At the same time, in many areas the cost of buying water to deliver to residents is going up. So are the electric bills and long-deferred maintenance costs of water districts.
Residents, as a result, are rewarded for their conscientious attention to drips and leaks with higher rates for drinking water. And the poor economy isn’t helping matters. With less money to spend, people cut back even more on utilities, which puts more upward pressure on rates.
Fullerton is one of the most recent cities to grapple with the issue of declining income from water users. At its meeting Tuesday, it will consider scheduling a special public meeting June 1 on whether to impose a $2 water rate increase on every home and business to bring in $700,000.
“During the past years,” said a staff report, “the City’s active conservation program and generally poor economic conditions have resulted in a reduction in high usage customers’ water
demands and its related revenues.”
In other words, those who used the most water in the past and paid the highest rates, have cut back.
Mayor Don Bankhead, in a telephone interview, said the council, in budget hearings, has “tentatively agreed that a public hearing should be held on the rate increase.”
Additionally, the Metropolitan Water District, which supplies much of Southern California with water imported from Northern California, raised its rates to cities and water districts by 12.6 percent, an increase that will automatically will be added to Fullerton bills.
The MWD saw its own costs go up due to the three year drought that has covered California and because supplies to Southern California were reduced by a federal court order that protects the delta smelt, a small endangered fish in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the source of much of the water that is shipped south.
Those who use the most water will see their rates go up 22 percent in San Juan Capistrano, in part because of hikes passed along by the MWD. The city council voted for the increase in February to also allow it to pay for some local water projects.
Last year Garden Grove raised its rates 19.7% to pay for improvements to aging infrastructure and the Yorba Linda Water District raised its rates 41 percent. The Yorba Linda board of directors recently authorized a staff study of a tiered rate structure that would encourage conservation by hitting hardest at those who use—or waste—the most water.
Correction: A previous version of this story stated that the Yorba Linda Water District has already implemented a tiered water rate structure. That is not the case — the district has initiated a study of a tiered rate structure. We regret the error.
— TRACY WOOD