Water bills are about to double over the next five years for over 13,000 Orange County residents after the Trabuco Canyon Water District increased their rates this year.
The new rates only apply to some residents from Rancho Santa Margarita, Mission Viejo, Lake Forest and unincorporated South Orange County.
It’s following a growing trend across Orange County’s water suppliers of moving forward with major price hikes over protests from residents.
Under state law, water districts aren’t allowed to charge residents more than it costs to provide them with water, but leaders of the Trabuco Canyon Water District are saying their costs have skyrocketed in recent years due to investing in new infrastructure and inflation.
“Many of TCWD’s cost increases are the same increases experienced at our customers’ household levels – electricity, fuel, construction and the highest inflation in 40 years,” wrote Fernando Paludi, the district’s general manager in a statement.
“While TCWD has been able to use its financial strength and reserves to help buffer our customers from these impacts, it cannot do so indefinitely.”
Board members approved the new rates at a special meeting in June, and declined to comment on the issue when asked by Voice of OC, referring questions to Paludi.
But many of the district’s residents who live on fixed incomes are questioning how they’re going to pay for these skyrocketing bills with their limited finances, with some discussing starting a recall that’s already garnered nearly $3,000 in donations from residents.
Ray Chandos, one of the residents whose bill went up, said the district officials weren’t interested in hearing their complaints, telling them “this is the way it’s going to be.”
“The totality of my monthly bill has doubled,” Chandos said in an interview. “There’s been a lot of stress, especially in the older people on fixed incomes who are worried about how they’re going to make ends meet.”
Under the current plan, the average homeowner would go from paying $133 on their monthly water to nearly $288 a month over the next five years, a 116% increase.
The district’s “fixed,” fees on residents, which are charged no matter how much water is used, are also set to dramatically increase.
Under the old rules, customers with the smallest water pipe would pay about $21 a month.
Five years from now, they’ll be paying nearly $79 per month for the same pipe.
Larger pipes, which are generally reserved for businesses, farms or homes with a large acreage to water their plants, would see an increase of almost $1,500 per month by 2028.
Paludi says that’s a necessity, but added the district is looking to launch a “meter re-sizing procedure,” that would let residents apply for a downsizing of their pipes, since many have larger pipes than their properties need in the more rural areas.
Under the new rates, reducing from a 1.5 inch pipe to a ⅝ inch pipe would save one house over $1,500 in their first year alone.
“Many customers have contacted TCWD regarding their meter size and have attended our public meetings,” Paludi said.
He added, the “Board of Directors has committed to rolling out the meter re-sizing guidelines expeditiously and making the lower monthly charges, if applicable, retroactive to when requests were made.”
They’re also not the first water district in Orange County to wrestle with this issue.
In June, the Santa Margarita Water District announced a massive rate hike for the city of San Juan Capistrano that came two years after the district took over managing the city’s water infrastructure.
The increase would’ve raised portions of some businesses’ bills by over 1200%, but it would’ve largely left resident’s water bills untouched.
That plan was ultimately voted down by the district’s board of directors after a Voice of OC article highlighting the problem, who instead decided to commission a new study to look at alternative ways of solving the cash shortfall.
But that didn’t happen in Trabuco Canyon, where board members unanimously approved the rate hike.
Regardless of where you live, the increase in costs is expected to keep on coming, with Paludi noting customers of the Irvine Ranch Water District, South Coast Water District and other districts are set to see increases over the next few years as well.
“Water rate increases are occurring at water districts throughout Orange County and across California,” Paludi said. “More should be expected in order to keep pace with persistently high costs.”
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @NBiesiada.
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