District wants thoughts on proposed water rate hike

The South Coast Water District will hear the public's opinion of possible rate hikes at forums set for 2 and 4 p.m. Wednesday at the Ocean Institute in Dana Point Harbor.

The public can ask questions and provide input on the proposal to raise the rates to generate $3 million over the next two years. Comments will be taken into consideration with public testimony submitted before the board votes on the rate change at 6 p.m. June 23 in the Dana Point City Council Chambers, 33282 Golden Lantern.

"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."

If proposed rates are approved, 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 beginning July 1, 2012

Typical high-water use, single-family homes could see a $20.38 increase per month starting July 1 and $4.75 the following year.

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

A rate hike is not taken lightly, Homscheid 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.

The board cut some employee compensation and delayed others, Homscheid 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, 80% of the district's water supply is imported from the Colorado River and Northern California, and those supplies are unreliable and rising in cost, more than 25% in the last 18 months and are expected to rise another 12.5% 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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