2012-06-22 / Front Page
Calleguas officials: rising water rates to stabilize
End of drought, improvements to pipeline system sited as reasons why rising costs will subside
Water rates in Moorpark have been shooting upward like a broken sprinkler for the last six years, but officials are saying water bill increases will be more moderate and more predictable from this point forward.
Moorpark’s water rates have increased by more than 60 percent since 2006, with the latest hike an 8 percent increase that went into effect in March. The one before that was a 12 percent rate hike in May 2011.
During a special City Council meeting on June 13, representatives from Calleguas Municipal and Metropolitan water districts— the agencies that sell imported water to Ventura County—explained that the large increases have been driven by the combination of a statewide drought, pumping delays related to protecting endangered species in the Sacramento Delta, and a slew of necessary capital improvement projects.
But if all goes as planned, local customers can expect to see more predictable rate increases in the coming years, water officials said.
“We’ve looked at all anticipated capital projects and we believe that even if Metropolitan raises their rates 5 to 6 percent per year, which is a little bit higher than what they’re projecting right now, we can keep the overall rate increases less than 6 percent each year,” said Susan Mulligan, general manager of Calleguas Municipal Water District.
“Because what we heard from our customers, including (Ventura County), was ‘try to stabilize the rates, try to keep it predictable.’”
Moorpark gets its water from the Ventura County Waterworks District No. 1, which gets final approval for water rate increases from the Ventura County Board of Supervisors.
But the county decides how much to charge its customers based on rates set by Calleguas and Metropolitan, who bring water into Southern California primarily from the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta and other resources.
The Moorpark City Council, which has no official say in the water rates, called last week’s special meeting in hopes of contributing to the discussion and expressing frustration about the ever-increasing cost of water, despite recent efforts to reduce consumption.
Getting over a dry spell
Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager of Metropolitan Water District, said his agency has been dealing with an aging infrastructure in the last five years.
“We’re now spending a fair amount of money on just maintenance,” he said.
On top of that, Metropolitan last year paid $600 million to use the State Water Project’s delivery system to bring water to Southern California from the north.
“About 80 percent of our costs are fixed just to maintain and operate this actual system, regardless of how much (water) we deliver (to Southern California),” Kightlinger said.
Even if Metropolitan sells less water, their costs stay the same, he said.
“It’s a difficult story to explain,” Kightlinger said. “But if revenue goes down, you have to raise the price of it because you have to raise the revenue.”
Although Metropolitan had no rate hikes for eight consecutive years until 2004, the picture began to change because California started suffering a severe drought.
“The good news is we have rolled out of the drought, and our infrastructure has performed really well,” Kightlinger said. “We’ve been able to capture some good supply of water in the last two years and rebuilt our supplies.”
The general manager also said Metropolitan was prohibited from pumping water for “months at a time” in order to protect the delta smelt and other endangered species in the San Joaquin Delta.
“In July the governor has promised he’s going to make an announcement about proposed projects that will start to address this issue,” Kightlinger said. “It will be the first time California’s taken a serious hard look at what we’re going to do about problems in the delta since the early 1980s.”
The trouble with reliability
Calleguas, which was created by ballot measure in 1953 to ensure water reliability in Ventura County and surrounding areas, imports all of its water from Metropolitan.
But in an effort to decrease its dependence on imported water, Calleguas has been working on a variety of capital improvement projects to develop new local water resources.
Mulligan said the difficult part is striking a balance between building reliability and staying economically responsible.
“The more reliable, the more costly,” she said.
Some of Calleguas’recent projects include building a $42-million well field in the Las Posas Basin, east of Hitch Boulevard and south of Highway 118, just outside Moorpark’s city limits.
The site is planned as the home of the Moorpark Desalination Plant, a water filtration facility that would remove sulfate and chlorides from groundwater and ultimately make it suitable for drinking and irrigation.
Calleguas’ other big project is the $83-million salinity management pipeline, or “brine line.”
The brine line, which is under construction and scheduled for completion in 2016, will stretch from Port Hueneme to Simi Valley. It will bring an estimated 13 million gallons of potable water to the area each year.
Mulligan said Calleguas has been very successful in getting grant funding to build both projects, but some of the cost must be offset through the water rates.
Besides the water officials, a full audience attended the twohour meeting last Wednesday, including Ventura County Supervisor Peter Foy.
Former Moorpark resident Hugo Tamayo said he has been unable to move back to the city with his family of six, partly because of the expensive water.
“We can’t believe everything they’re saying up there,” Tamayo said. “It all falls down to politics.”
Farmer Steve Shane said he used to pay about $400 per acrefoot of water—roughly 326,000 gallons. Now, Shane pays about $1,000 for the same amount.
“We’re being penalized because we’re being more efficient,” he said. “There’s something wrong with this picture.”
Moorpark City Councilmember Keith Millhouse said state leaders are “squandering monies” that should have been used to fix the water system decades ago.
“It’s going to take a grassroots effort for people to demand that things be done,” Millhouse said. “Everyone agrees we need a safe, reliable, affordable water supply for Southern California, so it’s going to take advocacy.”
Millhouse said he and the rest of the council will continue to “keep an eye” on Metropolitan and the issues affecting local water rates.