Proposed water rate hike protested, but clears committee

By Joe Britton

City News Service

The San Diego City Council later this month will consider a proposed 4.94 percent water rate increase that was criticized Wednesday by Councilman Carl DeMaio as unnecessary and the result of wasteful spending.

The Natural Resources and Culture Committee voted 2-1 - with DeMaio casting the dissenting vote - to forward the rate hike to the full City Council, but declined to advance the proposal with an endorsement.

“The bottom line is this proposed water rate increase is absolutely unnecessary,” DeMaio said at a news conference to urge city leaders to reject the proposal. “It can be avoided if the mayor and the council act now to eliminate wasteful spending within the budgets for the city, county and regional water agencies.”

But Alex Ruiz, interim director of the city’s Public Utilities Department, told committee members the rate increase is needed to offset the higher cost of imported water from the San Diego County Water Authority.

“That proposed rate increase is due to the increase in the wholesale cost of water,” he testified.

The CWA raised the rates it charges to member agencies, including the city, after the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California increased the cost of wholesale water. The CWA has sued the MWD over the rate increase.

If the hike in San Diego’s water rates is ultimately approved by the full City Council, a water bill for a typical single-family home would increase by $3.39 a month to $72.01, according to a report from the Water Department.

The change would take effect Jan. 1.

A 7.75 percent water rate increase went into effect in San Diego at the start of this year. That rate hike also was to offset the higher cost of imported water.

According to DeMaio’s office, water rates in San Diego have gone up 65 percent since 2007.

He attributed the increases to higher compensation, increased administration costs and more staff at the city’s Water Department and county and regional water agencies.

“All of these labor costs, government salaries and government benefits, are imbedded in the water bills you pay,” DeMaio said.

Ruiz responded that his department has taken steps to “improve the efficiency of our operations.”

The City Council on Sept. 21 will consider whether to notice the proposed increase under Proposition 218. If more than half of San Diego’s 270,000 water customers return the mailed notice protesting the increase, it would be rejected.