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City to Look at Water Rates for Next 5 Years

Two councilmen express fear that such a study will trigger price hikes.

The City Council directed city staff Tuesday to look into how much residents pay for water, but two councilmen said they feared preparing a so-called rate study would eventually lead to higher bills.

“By authorizing this study, we’re really putting in an increase,” said Councilman Roy Byrnes. “Lets’ face it, no study was ever put into practice that resulted in a decrease.”

The council's last water rate study was approved February 2010, and it called for regular rate hikes through July 2013 and was intended to cover up through June 2014. City staff asked the council Tuesday to define which issues a new study should examine, with the work expected to take place in 2013-14 and include a plan for through 2019. The city has set aside $45,000 for the effort.

Besides tapping into an underground aquifer, the city also imports water from the Metropolitan Water District, whose rates have gone up 91 percent in the last seven years, said Francine Kennedy, water conservation coordinator for the city. Rate hikes are expected to continue, she said.

Councilman Sam Allevato said it’s important the city monitor its “precious resource” and plan for the future. But he added, “I don’t want to pay higher rates if I don’t have to."

Byrnes called the others more optimistic than he, calling for staff to first look for ways to cut costs before increasing rates.

Councilman Larry Kramer acknowledged a rate study could precipitate higher water bills.

“We have a fiduciary duty to make sure enough money comes in to provide water for the residents,” Kramer said. “I think it’s responsible on our part to start a rate study now.”

Councilman Derek Reeve echoed Byrnes: “I’m absolutely convinced that what tonight is, is increasing the water bill. At some point we have to stop unnecessarily burdening our water rate payers.”

He said the city the small size of San Juan Capistrano cannot afford such a big enterprise as the groundwater recovery plant. He called it “throwing good money after bad.”

The council voted 3-2, with Byrnes and Reeve opposed, for staff to come up with the scope of a future rate study.

Clint Worthington May 10, 2013 at 01:25 AM
Joanna, that is exactly the point. The San Juan water basin is not being recharged with water quickly enough. Almost all of the water well pumps fail prematurely because what is being pumped from underground is so dirty it is causing the pumps to fail, the pump linings to fail, and has been destroying the filters of the GWRP because the water being pumped is so murky. Check any of the Utility Commission, City Council Agendas regarding this. They explain it in the memos. If you don't believe that the basin is being pumped dry, go to where the Trabuco and San Juan Creek meet at the GWRP. On some days you will see that the water from both creeks at that location disappear into the ground, as the pumping from the main water well at that location have pumped the underground water basing dry leading to the pumping of the murky water.
John Perry May 10, 2013 at 01:59 AM
Joanna The figure is $129,500 per year for the average Utilities employee. Sorry about the typo. .And check with MWD. They have three times as much water in storage now as they have ever had so ever in a dry year we have enough MWD water to see us through several more years like this one.. If you want to worry about something..think about this. The GWRP is wholly dependent on local rainfall to recharge the basin. If it doesn't rain we have no water in the basin. John
Joanna Clark May 10, 2013 at 03:31 AM
John, I'm well aware that GWRP is "wholly dependent on local rainfall to recharge the basin. Same applies to virtually every aquifer in the southwest, with the exception of fossil aquifers. I'm also aware that MWD has water in storage. However, climate change is causing extended droughts throughout the southwest. "The Texas drought has cost ranchers and farmers billions of dollars in lost income or additional expenses. It has forced hundreds of towns and cities to restrict water use and has turned lakes into ponds." Las Vegas is seeking to build a water pipeline from northern Nevada to replace the water they are loosing as Lake Mead turns into a dry lake bed. They had also proposed building a 1800 mile pipeline to the junction of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, but that was before the water-level began to drop in the Mississippi. If the drought conditions continue into 2014 or 2015, and our population continues to grow, those water reserves will be unable to keep up with demand. What do you propose then? We're facing a whole bunch of problems that few politicians are willing to address. Problems that require long-term, not short-term, solutions.
Tom Marantz May 10, 2013 at 03:16 PM
Joanna, Water banking and Desal may end up being the only affordable option at that point. "Luckily" the city is still involved in the Desal with our local neighboring cities. It is a rock and a hard place indeed.
Joanna Clark May 10, 2013 at 04:17 PM
There are two major problems with desalination - energy and pollution. Although modern desal processes are more energy efficient that the processes used 10 years ago, fossil fuels are still the primary source of this energy. Removal of pure water from a sea water creates a concentrated waste stream that is twice as salty as sea water. The waste stream also contains process chemicals such as chlorine, anti-scaling and anti-caking agents. The discharge can have a significant negative effect on surrounding marine life. If you attended the Ocean Acidification conference at UCI this past week, you would have learned that "the oceans are now acidifying 10 times faster today than 55 million years ago when a mass extinction of marine species occurred. Couple the effects of desal waste stream pollution to the effects of ocean acidification, and we are risking a marine biological meltdown. If that happens it is highly-doubtful that humanity will survive.

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