by Photo by Paul Moody on Unsplash

As severe drought conditions grip California for the third consecutive year, the San Diego County Water Authority proposed increases for its 24 member agencies and their customers by 5.2 percent for treated water and 3.7 percent for untreated water. 

The agency cited “historically high inflation, significant energy cost increases from SDG&E, and continued cost increases by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California” for the increases. The proposal comes after the California Water Resources Control Board approved an emergency water conservation regulation that bans irrigating turf at commercial, industrial, and institutional properties
“We recognize inflationary pressures are challenging for many residents, and we are working collaboratively with all levels of government to identify, advocate for, and improve water affordability,” said Water Authority General Manager Sandra L. Kerl. “As our rate-setting process moves forward, we will remain focused on maintaining the lowest possible rates while delivering a safe and reliable water supply during the driest period in more than 1,200 years.” 

According to the agency, the proposal includes strategic withdrawals from its rate stabilization fund by approximately $14 million to reduce 2023 rate increases by approximately $39 per acre-foot. The fund, created in 1990, aims to help avoid rate spikes, especially those driven by reduced water sales. 

The water authority said it secured $25 million from California to pay for water bills for San Diego County residents impacted by COVID-19, and distribute $80 million acquired by advocacy efforts in 2021 to its member agencies. With these funds, the agency said it is “avoiding hundreds of millions in future costs on water deliveries; and maintaining strong credit ratings that reduce the cost of debt." 

The rates for 2023 represent $1,579 per acre-foot for untreated water or $56 more per acre-foot than this year's bill. Charges would be $1,929 per acre-foot for treated water or $96 more per acre-foot than in 2022. An acre-foot is about 325,900 gallons, enough to serve the annual needs of 2.5 typical four-person households in San Diego County, the authority claims. 

The actual figures will vary by a member agency, and each member agency will incorporate costs from the water authority into retail rates and charges to residents, businesses, and institutions. 

“Despite the current inflationary environment and the challenges of the pandemic, our strategic financial planning and management of debt allow us to keep the proposed rates at the low end of our projections,” said Water Authority Finance Director Lisa Marie Harris. “We continue to control rates while maintaining a complex water production, treatment, and delivery system that supports the region now, and for decades to come.” 

Agency staff said that the rising costs for water supplies, including increases in water treatment driven by energy costs and a 7 percent increase from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California in Los Angeles for untreated supplies, are behind the increase.

The Water Authority Board is expected to vote on rates for next year at its regular meeting on June 23, following a public hearing. 
More information about the Water Authority’s proposed 2023 rates can be found on the May board pocket starting on page 215 at: 

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