The Coast News Group

Water rate increase approved in Escondido

Escondido — City Council approved an increase in water rate fees Feb. 4 during what Mayor Sam Abed called the most thorough discussion of a topic he’s seen in his 10 years on the council.

Staring March 1, customers of the Rincon del Diablo Municipal Water District who use 7,000 gallons a month or less will see a rate increase of about $5.54 per month or about $66 a year.

Customers who use up to 15,000 gallons a month will see a rate increase of $8.76 a month.

Those using up to 25,000 gallons a month will have a rate increase of $13.08 a month.

The rate will not increase for agricultural farmers.

The cost is going up because of the funding needs of the Water and Wastewater Capital Improvements Project, according to Chris McKinney, director of utilities.

Another factor driving the rates up is the increase in operational costs, stemming from higher prices for imported water and the need to import more because of the drought, and the cost of materials, equipment replacement and employee services.

The funds needed for capital improvements go towards water projects over the next five years that will replace aging infrastructure and restore Escondido’s water storage capability.

One big project that is meant to reduce the city’s need on imported water is the Water and Potable Reuse Program.

By 2020, city staff hopes to be able to distribute recycled water to Hogback/Cloverdale, La Honda and the Hidden Trails area because those areas would be the largest consumers of recycled water due to agriculture.

There are 12 smaller projects within the recycled water program in either the planning, design or construction phase. The total cost of all the projects is $110.6 million.

Another big project the rate increases fund is the Lake Wohlford Dam Project, which will cost $17 million and is currently in the design phase.

Council also approved the reduction of late letter fee charges from $15 to $1.50.

The letter lets delinquent customers know their water will be shut off if they don’t contact the water district.

McKinney said staff works out a payment plan for customers if they can’t pay the amount due in full.

The rates were approved for two years and will likely be reviewed after that.

The councilmembers talked about the drought and said rates aren’t likely to go down anytime soon.

They encouraged residents to think about drought tolerant landscaping and artificial turf.