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Water rate hikes may be on tap

Water district board members expected to vote at hearing June 23 on increases that could be as much as $20 a month for some.

June 02, 2011|By Barbara Diamond, coastlinepilot@latimes.com

South Coast Water District board members are taking steps to make sure customers' taps don't run dry.

A hearing will be held 6 p.m. June 23 in the Dana Point City Council Chambers, 33282 Golden Lantern, when a vote will be taken on a proposal to raise rates to generate $3 million over the next two years. Public comment taken at two forums held June 1 on the proposal and testimony presented at the hearing will be considered before the board votes.

"Despite the official end of the drought, the above-average rainfall this year is only going to provide near-term relief for water supplies," district spokeswoman Linda Homscheid said. "We have significant work ahead to deal with long-term supplies."

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South Coast Water District provides water to about 40,000 residents, 1,000 businesses and more than 2 million visitors a year to communities served by the district.

If proposed rates are approved, occupants of typical single-family residences, which constitute 80% of the district's customers, could see a $7.85 increase in water and sewer charges on their monthly bill starting July 1, and a $1.75 increase on July 1, 2012.

Typical high water-use occupants of single-family residences could see a $20.38 increase per month increase on July 1 and a $4.75 increase the following year.

Proposed water and sewer rates are posted at http://www.scwd.org. Dollar amounts shown are the maximum under consideration and could be lower. No change in rate structure is proposed.

Rate hikes are not taken lightly, Homschied said.

A planned rate increase was postponed last year during the economic downturn, and new projects were put on hold to lower costs during the rate freeze.

The district also has cut costs and budgets, shearing $1.7 million from the 2009 budget and saving $2.2 million in 2010 by refinancing bonds. Other savings implemented by staff included $150,000 per year for groundwater well maintenance.

In other cost-saving actions, the board cut some employee compensation and delayed others, Homschied said.

Four staff positions remain vacant, their functions added to other positions. Overtime costs have been reduced and another reduction is planned for this year.

However, about 80% of the district's water supply is imported from the Colorado River and Northern California, and those supplies are becoming less reliable and more costly, with increases of more than 25% in the last 18 months. An additional 12.5% increase is expected in the next two years, Homscheid said.

District officials propose to decrease dependence on imported water by expanding local groundwater supplies, participating in ocean desalination projects and increasing the use of locally recycled water for irrigation.

For more information about the proposed rate hike, visit http://www.scwd.org, e-mail custserv@scwd.org, or call (949) 499 455 ext. 1.

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