Shouldn’t California have a master water plan if we are to keep building?

It is not often that we read stories relating to our local water districts. Today’s Flash Report included a link to a San Diego Union Tribune story relating to water conservation along with increased usage rates. That brings back memories.

In Nov 2000 I ran for a seat on our local water district Board. On the League of Women Voters web site I added a Position Paper which read “Water–A Quality of Life Issue.”

My opening paragraph was a quote which reads: “In a stinging rebuke of state water policy, a Sacramento appeals court has sided  with environmentalists who say California is fueling excessive development–particularly in southern California–by promising more water than it can realistically deliver. “ A lawsuit was filed at that time by the Regional Council of Rural Counties against the CalFed’s water plan/accord. RCRC Chairman Tom Bamert stated: “California can’t continue to promise more water than is available for urban growth.” Was he correct?

My personal comments in that white paper follow: With a finite supply and growing demand I have been concerned about our future availability of safe drinking water. We need to formulate a strategic Management Plan to guide future policy decisions into the first quarter of the 21st Century.
Readers. Do we currently have a plan?

I now believe that the decision to increase water rates is to level the playing field as we shift to using recycled water which is still a costly process. It raises the question of the county approval of adding two million square feet of commercial construction along with up to 14,000 housing units at Rancho Mission Viejo off Ortega Highway in the unincorporated area of Orange County between San Juan Capistrano and Lake Elsinore. Did they ever consider that impact along with Irvine’s Great Park and the Platinum Triangle developments as we shortly will be expected to “use less and pay more” to accommodate the demand of these future neighbors and neighborhoods?

While I joined Ed Royce, Sr. VP Metropolitan Water District, on a tour of the $2 billion Diamond Valley Lake reservoir in 2000, we were told that this project serves as an insurance policy against any earthquake or drought that would disrupt our current source. It was designed to hold six months of emergency storage south of the San Andreas Fault. It is not simply another source for everyday usage.

Hello folks. Just as we expect our cars to start every time we turn the ignition switch most of us take immediate and an infinite supply of safe drinking water for granted. One of the reasons we overlook water and sewerage is that the pipes are all buried underground and we simply assume that the delivery systems are meeting our demand without interruption. Larry G

New creed on water: Use less, pay more

By Mike Lee Note: Edited by Larry G to reduce the text.
Union-Tribune Staff Writer

If you think mandatory water rationing is painful, wait until you see your water bill in several months.

The Metropolitan Water District, the main supplier for Southern California, is marching toward rate increases of about 40 percent over two years – the largest spike since the early 1990s. Its higher prices could show up as early as September.

But that’s not all.

Some local water districts had planned to boost rates to pay for expenses such as maintaining their own pumps and pipes, so they will add their increases to Metropolitan’s. And districts countywide are drafting stiff penalties or fees to encourage water conservation amid California’s drought.

“Stunning, isn’t it?” said Mark Watton, general manager of the Otay Water District in Spring Valley.

It could feel like a punch in the gut for recession-weary residents, who will have to pay much more for water and use much less.

Metropolitan is expected to finalize its rate structure April 14. The agency’s directors are set to adopt a water-rationing plan and set higher prices for Southern California. That will prompt new rates across San Diego County as local water districts pass along the rising costs.

The steep rate increases are meant to help Metropolitan cover its fixed costs during times when it sells less water – and thus gets less revenue.

In recent days, Metropolitan officials have considered several options that mainly differ on how to split the increase from year to year. One scenario calls for a 33.9 percent rise in wholesale water costs in 2010, followed by a 5.4 percent jump in 2011. Another proposal would impose a 19.7 percent increase in September and a 21.5 percent rise in 2011.

“They are both bad,” said Jim Barrett, San Diego city’s water chief and a Metropolitan board member. “I don’t think anybody is happy about where we find ourselves.”

San Diego, by far the county’s largest water agency, has raised rates at least five times since mid-2007 and has approved more increases that will take effect in three months and again in July 2010. After factoring in Metropolitan’s plan, many residents will pay at least 70 percent more per gallon than they did in early 2007.

Each water district in San Diego County has its own rate formula, based on factors such as their water sources and construction projects. Some agencies’officials said a 40 percent Metropolitan jump would translate to a 20 percent to 30 percent rate boost for their customers; others said it’s too soon to speculate.

In anticipation of Metropolitan’s next move, leaders of the Vallecitos Water District in San Marcos are looking at phasing in average rate increases of 17.5 percent and 9.5 percent over two years. The agency also is contemplating punitive drought rates for water hogs.

Officials there and at other water agencies agree that customers shouldn’t expect rate rollbacks when the drought ends. If some costs decrease, they likely will be replaced by the expense of improving California’s water reliability through building new canals, dams, desalination plants or other means.

“This water pricing isn’t temporary,” said Watton at Otay.

California’s water shortages stem from two problems: years of below-average snowfall across the Southwest and restrictions on pumping water through the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to protect imperiled fish.

The crisis is pushing up prices from north to south, said Laura King Moon, assistant general manager of State Water Contractors, a nonprofit group that represents major water buyers including Metropolitan.

“Right now, you are seeing the first bump of significant rate increases, and you are seeing large portions of the San Joaquin Valley laying off farmworkers,” Moon said. “That alone is painful, but it’s not the end.”

Concern is growing among business leaders, said Patti Krebs, executive director of the Industrial Environmental Association, a group of manufacturing companies in San Diego County. She said water and power are top expenses for her members.

At some point, Krebs said, higher water bills “will make their operating costs increase so greatly that they will have to look at moving their lines to other places and not expanding here.”

“The general trend among U.S. drinking-water suppliers is double-digit increases annually in their rates,” said Amy Vickers, a water consultant in Amherst, Mass. She links the trend to higher costs for chemicals used to treat water, electricity and other factors.

“People may be frustrated that they are conserving, but the rates are going up,” Vickers said. “They really need to think this is a fair warning that if they don’t conserve, they are really going to pay through the nose” for other sources of water such as desalination plants.

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