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Increase in water bill drought rate fees still pending

OCEANSIDE — Oceanside residents are being asked to reduce their water use and at the same time are being told that drought rates, added to their water bill if a drought occurs, need to be increased. The proposed drought fees will cover expected revenue losses, now earned from water conservation measures, and anticipated penalty charges to the Metropolitan Water District in the case of a drought.
The proposal to increase drought rates prompted more than 100 letters of protest prior to the Feb. 4 council meeting that was slated to address the matter. More letters were hand-delivered at the meeting.
The higher drought rates, if approved, will not go into effect immediately. “Drought rates will not go into effect until we go to a level two drought or higher,” Lonnie Thibodeaux, water utilities director, said.
The bad news is a level two drought may come this year. “Water supplies are quite stressed in the state,” Thibodeaux said. “It’s one of the driest Januarys in current years.”
Drought rates and proposed increases are based on the average water use of single-family, multiple-family, irrigation and agriculture users.
The primary contention to the increases came from Ocean Hills Country Club homeowners who pay for their front yard water at the higher irrigation rates. The proposed increase will push up fees by 80 percent for more than 1,000 households in Ocean Hills Country Club. “It’s an 80 percent increase for approximately 3,000 residents, most who live on fixed incomes,” Ellen Baur, of the Ocean Hills Country Club homeowners association, said. “We’re not a faceless corporation.”
The Ocean Hills Country Club community, which boasts a central golf course, has cut back on its irrigation water use by installing a “smart” irrigation system that adjusts the amount of water to fit current weather conditions. “We reduced our water use by 20 percent and still have a 60 percent increase in our bill,” David Key, of the Ocean Hills Country Club homeowners association, said.
While homeowner association fees spread out the cost of common areas watered at the irrigation rates, 1,000 households are linked into the higher irrigation rates to water their front yards. “It’s much fairer if we were charged as a single-family rate instead of an irrigation rate,” Key said.
After several more speakers from Ocean Hills Country Club reiterated the protest, City Manager Peter Weiss tabled the issue of drought rates for discussion at an unspecified later date.