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Del Mar council approves water rate increases

DEL MAR — Utility rates are on the rise in Del Mar.

The Del Mar City Council unanimously approved increases to water and wastewater rates at the May 20 meeting, which will prompt bill hikes for the city’s 1,900 customers.

With the alterations set to start in July and remain effective until January of 2024, the “typical residential customer” may notice their bills increasing by at least $129.36 per year — in order to keep up with forecasted costs.

And for the most part, those bill hikes are on an upward trend.

The typical customer uses about 6,300 gallons of water per month. Customers are charged for their usage through both fixed costs and a volume charge based on water usage.

Clean water rates — established in order to fund programs preventing urban runoff pollution to nearby bodies of water — were also set to rise by 10% annually.

However, council held off on hikes to the clean water for the time being, as staff researches a specific written protest received about the category.

The hikes are meant to fund reserves for each utility category, reserves that will then be used to cover the costs of infrastructure improvements to each system.

City staff anticipate the rate hikes will help fund five-year capital investment projects to the tune of nearly $5 million.

Projects are varied, but largely meant to be preventative. For example, the city anticipates the water system will need water valve replacements, reservoir rehabilitation as well as annual utility improvements, which are anticipated to cost almost $2 million.

“It’s important to stay on top of our infrastructure,” Councilwoman Ellie Haviland said. “It will cost us more down the road if we don’t.”

The council would not have been able to move forward with the proposed rate increases if the city had received protests from a majority of its customers — or at least 950 people. The hearing drew 118 official protests from customers.

However, the bill hikes still drew plenty of criticism. In a red dot sent to the city, resident Mark Robillard called the increases “outrageous,” and urged the council to consider “a more economical approach.”

Resident Alice McNally spoke during public comment, concerned that the rates would disproportionately affect seniors and other people living on fixed incomes.

Jack Jaeger urged the council to consider looking at ways to incentivize the use of grey water — “relatively” clean water that can be reused for things like irrigation. The thought prompted council discussion on the city’s purple pipes, which reclaim waste water on a larger scale for the purpose of outdoor irrigation.

Councilwoman Terry Gaasterland approved the rate structure, but said the council and community at large should look at ways to capture grey water and take advantage of the city’s existing purple pipes to cut water usage and potentially curb future rate hikes.