OCEANSIDE — City Council OK’d an increase in water and wastewater rates in a 3-2 vote on Dec. 8, in which Mayor Jim Wood and Councilwoman Esther Sanchez voted no. The first increases will be effective in February. Water rates will bump up 7.4 percent. With the initial increase water rates will still remain below the average regional cost. Wastewater rates will increase 9 percent and put costs above the regional average.
Additional increases were also OK’d for July. Water rates will increase an additional 7.8 percent and push the rate above the regional average. Wastewater rates will increase another 9 percent.
Water rate increases will cover the increased costs passed on by the Metropolitan Water District.
The increase in wastewater rates will provide funds for needed maintenance and repairs. Currently there are no funds available for emergency repair of sewage lines. “In the past few years we have had unexpected expenditures,” Cari Dale, water utilities director, said. “We’ve had a couple of million dollar oopsies.”
While there were 124 letters of protest against the increases, many felt there was no choice but to raise fees. Water delivery will stop if increased charges by the Metropolitan Water District are not paid. Wastewater system emergency repairs will be far more costly then maintenance.
“There is lots of deferred maintenance,” Diane Nygaard, an Oceanside resident, said. “Fourteen percent of the system is 50 years old or more.”
Most see no stop to the water increases passed on by the Metropolitan Water District except to become independent and develop local water sources. “The pain of all of this is how little control of water utilities we have,” Brian Boyle, utility commissioner, said. “The only way we can get out from under is more local supply.”
Councilwoman Esther Sanchez criticized the water utilities department for not doing enough to develop local water sources and promote water conservation.
Currently Oceanside produces 15 percent of its water. A water desalination plant is being developed, and agreements with other cities to maximize local resources and pipelines are being negotiated.
There may also be a small relief to bill payers in the future if the pending lawsuit against the Metropolitan Water District for unnecessary transportation charges is successful and these charges are dropped from the bill.