The Carlsbad Municipal Water District approved a water rate increase of about $5 a month for the average household starting Jan. 1, due mostly to the ever-increasing cost of importing water from Northern California and the Colorado River.
About 140 people sent letters protesting the increase. Five people spoke at Tuesday’s public hearing, one in favor of the increase and four opposing it.
Who Is Affected?
The increase applies to customers of the Carlsbad Municipal Water District.
Carlsbad City Council members also serve as directors for the Carlsbad Municipal Water District.
The water district is a subsidiary district of the City of Carlsbad and serves about 85 percent of the city. The other 15 percent, in the south, is served by either the Vallecitos Water District or the Olivenhain Municipal Water District.
How Are Rates Determined?
Rates are determined by the actual cost to provide water service. Water agencies may not charge more than this cost.
Carlsbad offsets rate increases when possible by covering some of the increased costs with its “reserves” (similar to money in a savings account). Without this, the latest rate increase would have been closer to 30 percent than the approved 5 percent.
Rates have two parts. The fixed part stays the same each month regardless of how much water is used. The other part depends on water usage, with people using less water paying a lower rate.
Across the region, water rates have been increasing steadily mostly due to our reliance on imported water, which is getting more and more expensive.
Water that has to be pumped from hundreds of miles away is becoming more scarce due to legal and environmental restrictions and increasing demands upstream from us.
Carlsbad used to rely on imported water for 100 percent of its supply. Today it’s about 60 percent, thanks to heavy investment in creating locally controlled sources like recycled water and desalination.
What About Desalination?
The Carlsbad Desalination Plant is up and running, delivering water to all the water districts in the region. It will eventually make up about 10 percent of our total supply.
The plant is owned by a private company, Poseidon Water, and the water is distributed by the regional water wholesaler, the San Diego County Water Authority.
The cost for this water today is more than imported water. As the cost of imported water continues to increase, desalinated water will eventually be cheaper, probably in about 10 years.
Desalinated water is drought proof and locally controlled, making it a more reliable source than imported water.
When customers purchase less water, the cost per customer to provide water usually needs to go up so that water agencies can continue to operate and maintain the water delivery system.
The latest cost of service study found this to be true for the Carlsbad Municipal Water District.
The good news for those who have conserved is that they are more likely to stay in the lowest tier of rates with the newly approved rate structure.
Recycled water rates are going up by 4 percent in 2017 and 2018. This is due to regional rebates being phased out and the cost of expanding the recycled water system.
Carlsbad just completed a project to almost double the size of its recycled water treatment plant and recently added 10 miles of distribution pipeline, with more in the works.
Recycled water makes up over 30 percent of Carlsbad’s water supply, making the city among the region’s largest users of recycled water.
Wastewater rates are not going up in the next two years and are the lowest in all San Diego County.
Would Stopping New Development Help?
Not really. The fixed part of the water bill would actually go down as the number of customers goes up.
Either way, the city could only put a hold on new water meters if a level 4 drought alert were declared. We are currently at level 2.
San Diego County has a more reliable water supply than most parts of Southern California because of investments in storage, conservation, recycled water and desalination.