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Do you pay Irvine Ranch for water? Your rates may go up to help cut usage

The Irvine Ranch Water District is planning several increases in its residential water rates in hopes of reducing water usage by 16% in the coming fiscal year.

The changes are partly in response to Gov. Jerry Brown's April 1 order for cities and water districts to attain a 25% reduction in urban water use statewide as California's drought continues into its fourth year. By Feb. 29, the Irvine Ranch district must meet a 16% reduction target set by the State Water Resources Control Board.

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The district serves 370,000 residents in Irvine, Newport Beach, Costa Mesa, Tustin, Lake Forest and Orange.

Irvine Ranch is proposing a two-step rate increase for fiscal 2015-16 that would take effect July 1.

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In Step 1, the charges, based on the volume of water used, are proposed to increase for each of four tiers — "low volume," "base rate, "inefficient" and "wasteful." The "excessive" tier between "inefficient" and "wasteful" would be eliminated.

The second step, which could occur Oct. 1, would increase rates substantially more in the inefficient and wasteful tiers if customers at those levels don't meet the mandated reductions. If that happens, the district could incur penalties from the state or other related costs.

According to the district, the main reasons for the price changes are higher operating and maintenance costs, an increase in electricity costs for pumping and treating water, higher charges for purchases of imported water and increased costs for pumping local groundwater.

But Irvine Ranch also hopes the new rates would encourage customers to limit outdoor watering and replace their grass with drought-tolerant landscaping. The district's turf-removal rebate recently was increased from $2 per square foot to $3.

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"These tiers send a clear price signal to customers who exceed their allocations that they need to use water smarter," said Beth Beeman, director of public affairs for the water district. "Studies have shown it is highly effective in promoting the efficient use of water and, unlike water rationing, it promotes sustained improvements in water-use efficiency."

Here are the proposed rate increases:

Low-volume tier:

• Current rate: 88 cents per centum cubic foot, or 748 gallons, of water

• Proposed rate: $1.11 per ccf

Base rate tier:

• Current rate: $1.34 per ccf

• Proposed rate: $1.62 per ccf

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Inefficient tier:

• Current rate: $3.91 per ccf

• Proposed rate (Step 1): $3.92 per ccf

• Proposed rate (Step 2): $9.30 per ccf

Wasteful tier:

• Current rate: $12.60 per ccf

• Proposed rate (Step 1): $14.53 per ccf

• Proposed rate (Step 2): $19.92 per ccf

Beeman said she is confident that customers will meet the reduction mandate.

But, she added, if the drought continues into next year, more cuts in water use may be required.

"We will be working hard over the next six months to assist them in the water-use reductions," she said.

The agency plans to launch several customer outreach programs beginning July 1. The effort would include a drought response center, an online contact form and a landscape workshop series.

Customers and property owners can send a written protest of the proposed rate increases by June 22 to IRWD, P.O. Box 5149, Irvine, CA 92616. The letters will be presented to the district board of directors at a public hearing beginning at 5 p.m. June 22 at 15600 Sand Canyon Ave., Irvine.

For more information about the district's proposed rates, visit irwd.com or call (949) 453-5300.

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