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Oceanside OKs water rate increase of 3%

OCEANSIDE — City Council approved a 3 percent increase to water and wastewater rates, following over a dozen community comments opposing rate hikes at the Nov. 19 meeting.

Higher rates mean a family that currently pays $62.88 a month for water will see an increase of just under $1.97, and a $56.28 wastewater bill will bump up an additional $1.83.

Speakers said they are frustrated that they work to conserve water, and still have higher monthly water bills, most topping $100.

“I reduce my utility water resources to the bare minimum,” Rodger Limon, Oceanside resident, said. “I have no yard to speak of. I go to the gym for hygiene water uses.”

Farmers also expressed concern that discounted agriculture water rates are set to run out in a year, and additional mandated water cutbacks would negatively impact crops.

“If we don’t water, we loose our crops, and agriculture leaves Oceanside,” Michelle Castellano, of Mellano and Company flower growers, said.

Water rates increases are largely due to the rising cost of buying imported water from the San Diego County Water Authority (SDWA) and Metropolitan Water District (MWD).

The higher cost of purchasing water cannot be controlled, and is passed through to customers.

A glimmer of good news is that Oceanside charges less for water than most regional cities.

This is due to producing and treating 15 to 20 percent of its own water from the Mission Basin. Groundwater is treated at the Mission Basin Desalting Facility and pumped out to customers.

The demand for water has also dropped. Citywide water use is down by 2.7 percent, since a mandate to cut back on water use was issued in August due to drought level 2 conditions.

The city still bears the cost of purchasing 80 percent of its water from the SDWA and MWD.

Oceanside has opposed increases, and ongoing litigations are challenging the chargers. A decision is still a year or more off.

Customer wastewater rates have also climbed. Increases are due to city infrastructure repairs, investment in the system, and a one time cost for the sewer fund’s billing system.

The 126 year-old city has a robust plan to repair and maintain its dated infrastructure, and avoid sewage spills. System upgrades often save in operation costs as well.

Higher water and wastewater rates will go into effect in January 2015.