By Mike Allen
October 13, 2019 (Santee) -- Customers of the Padre Dam Municipal Water District, which encompasses about 72 square miles, will see their rates for both water and sewage increase starting Nov. 1--and then go up again, starting on Jan. 1.
The reason behind the double whammy is due to a planned five-year schedule of rate increases approved by Padre Dam’s board in 2017, as well as the San Diego County Water Authority increasing rates on its water agencies this year, which is automatically passed on to customers.
The latest increase was approved as a consent calendar item during a September Padre Dam board meeting.
A major reason behind the Padre Dam’s board implementing a five-year series of rate hikes was to pay for an ongoing program of upgrading its infrastructure to ensure the reliable and safe transmission of water, according to district spokeswoman Melissa McChesney.
“Part of our five-year plan includes maintaining our systems and ensuring we can do the projects we are slated to do,” McChesney said.
Those rate increases also ensure that Padre Dam retains its spot as one of the highest charging water districts in the county, and for the nation as well.
The increases come after a year in which both Padre Dam and SDCWA froze their rates during the previous fiscal year.
For an average water customer in a single-family house in the western part of the district, using 11 hundred cubic feet (HCF) during the month, the increase means the bill will jump by $3.41 to $115.75 starting on Nov. 1, according to McChesney.
She noted that customers in the eastern part of the district, including Alpine, Crest, Blossom Valley, Dehesa and Flinn Springs, pay higher fees due to the increased cost of pumping water. An average water user of 15 HCF monthly in those areas will see the bill jump by $3.93 to $150.38.
Once the SDCWA hikes take effect on Jan.1, 2020, the average water bill for a western customer will see their bill go up again to $117.39, or by 1.4 percent.
These examples don’t include the increased cost for sewage treatment, which will increase by an average of 3 percent. The base sewage rate will rise by $1.54 for a single family house to $37.84 per month.
Customers can get a more detailed look at how the rate increases will impact their bills by going to www.padredam.org. Notices were included in all customers’ bills, and are posted on the agency’s website.
Padre Dam’s 24,000 customers may feel they are getting gouged if they compare their water bills to some of their neighbors in the Helix and Lakeside districts, which generally have lower rates.
Yet the comparison really isn’t fair, McChesney says, because those districts aren’t as large as Padre Dam, nor do they face the kinds of challenges posed by sending water over higher elevations and farther distances.
Those neighboring districts also have their own supply sources to help offset their costs; Padre Dam must import all of its water supply, she said.
McChesney was unable to confirm that Padre Dam’s rates are highest among some two dozen water districts in the county, but agreed it was “near the top.”
In 2016, according to an analysis done by Food & Water Watch, a national nonprofit, found that Padre Dam’s water rates were second highest in the nation, behind only Flint, Mich., which was dealing with lead contaminated supply crisis then. Padre Dam has previously questioned the accuracy of that analysis.
Padre Dam is the lead agency spearheading a program of converting millions of gallons of sewage to purified water through an advanced treatment process that produces near distilled quality water.
That program, called East County Water Purification, is expected to generate some 11.5 million gallons daily, or about 30 percent of the current water demands in the service area. Other participating agencies are the Helix Water District, the city of El Cajon and the County of San Diego.
The agencies are forming a joint powers authority to finance the cost of the project, estimated at $528 million. In July the agencies each committed $2.35 million for a total of $9.4 million for a legal mechanism called the Interim Funding Agreement.
Padre Dam’s budget for the 2019-20 fiscal year is $96.7 million. It has 131 employees.