By Mike Allen
June 22, 2017 (Santee) -- Despite cutting their water use by nearly 30 percent over the past nine years, Padre Dam Water District customers were hit with another five years of higher rates by its board, which voted unanimously June 21 to trigger the new charges starting Nov. 1.
At a required public hearing explaining the reasons behind the rate increase, five of about 30 residents attending the meeting spoke out against the proposal.
“My family and I spent about $20,000 to remove our lawn and install drought- resistant plants,” said Carolyn Post-Ladd (cover photo). “I feel like I’m being punished.”
Several others noted the continual increase to their bills, and questioned whether the district, one of the largest in service area in the county, was doing enough to mitigate the price increases on the cost of water, 100 percent of which must be imported.
Suzanne Till (cover photo) used a slide presentation to draw parallels with energy conservation to show how the district could improve its operations and save money. “What we did with energy we can do with water,” Till said.
Photo, right: Santee resident Carolyn Post-Ladd speaks against increased water rates before the board of directors of the Padre Dam Municipal Water District. The board approved a five year rate hike for water and sewer services by a unanimous vote.
But reducing demand is actually one of the main reasons Padre Dam is raising rates. Because the district derives most of its revenue from the sale of water, conservation efforts by customers because of the drought have put a major dent in its budget, said Padre Dam General Manager Alan Carlisle.
“Our customers are conserving and are doing it at an alarming rate,” Carlisle said in his presentation.
In fact, the district is selling about half of the water it did a decade ago, according to an analysis done by Carollo Engineering that served as the basis for the rate hike.
So, while folks are using less water, the district’s fixed costs for such things as maintenance and replacing of pipes, reservoir, trucks, and services it buys continues to rise.
In addition, Padre Dam has to buy all its water from the San Diego Water Authority, which recently raised its rates 3.7 percent to handle price increases slapped on by the Metropolitan Water Authority.
The result is that without any water of its own, having heavy fixed costs such expensive pumping systems to bring water to places like Alpine, Crest and Blossom Valley, and not having a lot of customers to share the pain, the district was forced to increase rates, Carlisle said.
Several residents criticized the way the rate hikes were applied, saying it seemed as if those who conserve the most were penalized by having larger rate increases than those using more water, including commercial customers.
According to the report sent out to all 24,000 Padre Dam customers, a low residential user of 5 hundred cubic feet of water would pay nearly $2 more a month over what they now pay. A more typical residential user of 9 HCF would pay 35 cents more per month.
The same report showed when the higher rates take effect, an average user of both water and sewer services will pay $154.75 monthly, or $3.74 more than they currently pay.
That comes to nearly $45 annually, but the rates will continue to rise through 2022.
Carlisle said Padre Dam rates are high, but not the highest in San Diego County. According to one recent snapshot the district was the third highest, behind two North County districts that served primarily agricultural customers. In contrast, some of the lowest water rates are enjoyed by adjacent Lakeside Water District and Otay Water District.
One analysis done by Washington, D.C.-based Food and Water Watch based on 2015 data found Padre Dam water rates to be the second highest in the nation, trailing only those of Flint, Mich., which was the subject of intense media coverage following evidence of contaminated water delivered to its residents last year.
Director Doug Wilson, who made the motion to accept the proposed hikes, said nobody likes rate increases but the board has an obligation to ensure the district’s pipelines and other infrastructure are safe and reliable. If the board didn’t approve the increase, the reduced budget would likely result in reduced maintenance to an already aging system, and that would be irresponsible, he said.
Director Jim Peasley said the district inherited severely deteriorating systems when it acquired Alpine and Crest, and had to spend millions in upgrades. “The question before us is this rate increase prudent and reasonable,” he said. “As one board member, I think the answer is yes.”