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South Coast proposes water rate hike

South Laguna customers of South Coast Water District are going to see higher bills if a proposed rate increase is adopted, as expected this month.

Escalating costs of imported water supplies are the largest single factor driving the potential rate change. The district has been advised that the cost of wholesale supplies will increase more than 40% over the next 15 months, starting with a 20% jump on Sept. 1.

“Reduced supplies of imported water and increased demand equals higher wholesale rates,” said Linda Homscheid, district spokeswoman. “The trickle down effect — I guess the pun is intended — to us is we get less water and pay more for it.”

Customers may learn about the rate increase and comment on it at public forums scheduled from 2 to 4 p.m. and from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Ocean Institute in Dana Point Harbor

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South Coast Water District provides water and sewer service to approximately 42,000 residents, more than 1,000 businesses and more than two million visitors a year in South Laguna from Nyes Place through Three Arch Bay, under contract with Laguna Beach, Dana Point and northern areas of San Clemente and San Juan Capistrano.

Laguna Beach County Water District, which abuts the South Coast district at Nyes Place, will hold a public hearing on a proposed rate increase for its customers on June 23. The Laguna district does not provide sewer service as does South Coast.

South Coast’s proposed rate hike would increase the total monthly cost for water and sewer service for the typical single-family home using 12 units of water — 8,970 gallons — by about $19. The bill for a typical residence using 20 units of water a month — 14,960 gallons— would increase about $38 a month.

Generally, those who use more water pay more for water service, and those who generate more or harder-to-treat wastewater pay more for sewer service.

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The district is seeking ways to lower costs, so the proposed rates changes under consideration will not exceed the proposed increases and could be lower.

Even before considering a rate adjustment, the district began cutting costs — $1.7 million from this year’s budget alone, officials said.

Notices detailing the proposed rate changes were mailed to property owners and bill payers served by South Coast during the first week of May. The district’s website, www.scwd.org, has complete information on the potential rate changes, including copies of the notices.

The proposed increases follow in the wake of a water conservation ordinance adopted by South Coast in April, prompted by the decreased allotment from Southern California wholesale supplier, Metropolitan Water District.

“Virtually all districts have put together and adopted water conservation ordinances stricter than the previous ones,” Homscheid said. “They outline year-round mandatory conservation and three levels of additional measures if the board declares a water shortage.”

The Laguna district held a public hearing in May on its revised conservation ordinance, which must be approved by the City Council, sitting as the district board of directors.

“Conservation is the cornerstone of water supply reliability,” Homscheid said.

In addition to coping with escalating costs for imported water, South Coast will be investing money on development of local water supplies and increased storage.

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“We will be spending millions over the next three to five years alone, both for potable water and recycled water,” Homscheid said.

“Recycled water is considered local water and the more we can recycle for irrigation, the less imported water we will have to buy.”

South Coast imports 80% of its water supply, Laguna imports 100%. Both districts are interested in desalinization as a source.

The South Coast board will hold a public hearing and vote on the proposed rate increase at 6 p.m. June 25 in the Dana Point City Council Chambers, 33282 Golden Lantern.

If approved the rate increase would take effect July 1 and increase annually over the following three years.

The district last increased rates on July 1, 2006.

For more information, visit scwd.org, e-mail custserv@scwd.org, or call (949) 499-4555 ext. 1.



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