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Water and wastewater rates continue to climb

OCEANSIDE — A water utilities rate workshop held Aug. 31 bore the bad news that water and wastewater rates are expected to bump up — again.
Water rates are anticipated to increase by 7.4 percent in January and another 7.8 percent in July. The increase is chiefly due to charges by the Metropolitan Water District, passed through to the San Diego County Water Authority, the city, and absorbed by consumers.
For a family of four that receives a current water bill of $50.82, a larger $54.58 bill can be expected in January, and a $58.85 bill in July.
Sewer rates will increase 9 percent in January and another 9 percent in July to cover long overdue repairs and maintenance on city facilities and pipelines. A current sewer bill of $45.48 will be pushed to $49.58 in January, and $53.55 in July.
The city opposes the water pass-through increases, especially the high water transportation charges that are billed to San Diego County and exceed the charges of any other county.
The county is not taking the increases lying down. San Diego County Water Authority filed a lawsuit in June against the Metropolitan Water District for charging unfair rates. The water authority lawsuit states that water rates are artificially too low, and water transportation rates are artificially too high. If results are favorable for the water authority, county and city water costs may come down.
“Metropolitan Water District has got us by the throat,” Brian Boyle, chair of the utilities commission, said.
“If there is someone you want to scream and yell at, that’s them (Metropolitan Water District) because they pass down the water rates to us,” Mayor Jim Wood said. “We will be signing the appropriate letters and let them know what our concerns are.”
The city is doing what it can to keep its operation costs down.
“We’re holding the line on budget operation costs and putting the squeeze on deferred maintenance,” Cari Dale, Oceanside water utilities director, said.
The squeeze does not include deferring critical repairs on facilities and pipelines that are in danger of breaking and causing big environmental problems and heavy fines. These repairs will be done. “I took a tour of the La Salina plant and I was horrified,” Pat Cope, utilities commission board member, said. “If we have one spill one block from the beach we’ll be in debt forever.”
The city is also holding down costs through the use of reclaimed water, development of the San Luis Rey River desalination plant, and pipeline share agreements with neighboring cities to transport water.
Conservation measures that relieve the city’s need to purchase water from the Metropolitan Water District are encouraged, but result in a decreased demand for water and an increased cost per unit of water purchased from the Metropolitan Water District.
“I am as angry as heck,” Councilwoman Esther Sanchez said. “The more we conserve, the higher the cost of water. It’s turned upside down.”
Public notices of water and wastewater rate increases will be mailed out this month and reflected in January bills. Rates cannot be adjusted for low-income households, but low water users will benefit from lower rates in the tiered billing system.