By Joe Tash
Residential customers of the Santa Fe Irrigation District will see an increase averaging 11 percent on their monthly water bills starting Jan. 1, 2010, the third rate increase to take effect in the past three years.
For 2010, the district increased its overall rates by 15 percent, but the increase for individual ratepayers will vary, based on how much water they use, said district general manager Michael Bardin. The average customer's bill will go up by $21 per month, said Bardin.
The 2010 increase was part of a three-year rate increase approved by the district's board of directors in 2007. Rates went up by 20 percent in 2008 and 15 percent in 2009.
"Primarily, it's the cost of water has just gone up. What's driving our cost up is the increased cost of imported water," Bardin said.
The Santa Fe Irrigation District provides water for residents of Rancho Santa Fe, Solana Beach and most of Fairbanks Ranch, said Bardin, serving an area with a population of about 22,000 people. The district also treats water for Encinitas residents through a contract with the San Dieguito Water District.
This year, about 40 percent of the district's water came from local sources, with the other 60 percent purchased through Southern California's Metropolitan Water District, or imported water, Bardin said.
Another factor in the increase, said Bardin, is a capital improvement plan calling for $60 million worth of projects over the next 10 years. Among the projects are valve replacements and the upgrade and renovation of a pump station and reservoir.
Finally, other district costs such as labor, fuel and energy are going up, Bardin said.
The district is looking at ways to decrease its dependence on imported water through development of local sources, such as a planned desalination plant in Carlsbad, and using more recycled water for irrigation, Bardin said. This will help insulate the district against cost increases and shortages in the availability of imported water.
Because of those cost increases, however, district residents are likely to see additional rate increases in the future.
"I would say that some type of increase in January 2011 is inevitable. We're working to try to keep it as low as possible," Bardin said.
While rates are going up, water use in the district is going down. According to Bardin, district customers did their part this summer in cutting their water use, after mandatory restrictions went into effect across San Diego County.
Local water districts put in the restrictions on landscape irrigation and other types of outdoor water use in response to projected statewide shortages due to an ongoing drought and other factors.
So far during the fiscal year that began July 1, water use in the Santa Fe Irrigation District declined by 14 percent, said Bardin. The biggest change for customers was a requirement to water outside only three days each week.
"People seem to have embraced them (the restrictions) and are doing their part, so we are very pleased with the public's response," Bardin said.
The district had faced financial penalties, which it would have had to pass on to customers, if it had gone over allocations from the Metropolitan Water District and County Water Authority, Bardin said.
The next level of restrictions would involve setting an allocation limit for each water district customer. At this point, Bardin said, the Santa Fe district doesn't anticipate imposing restrictions.
"We were hopeful the use of restrictions would get us the savings we needed, and they have," Bardin said.