A vote cast Tuesday will raise San Diegans' water rates by 5 percent next year and 5 percent in 2014.
The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California met Tuesday afternoon to vote on the next two years' budget. The decision included a price hike for ratepayers in San Diego, which San Diego's water authority said is unnecessary and will only go toward staff pay increases and travel expenses.
However Metropolitan said the increase was necessary to upgrade and repair their aging system. More than 40 percent of the agency's facilities are more than 60 years old, boardmembers said.
“[The increase] allows Metropolitan to meet key priorities to ensure reliable water supplies while keeping the cost of our wholesale supplies as low as possible,” said the board's chairman John V. Foley in a statement.
The San Diego County Water Authority opposed the rate increase, which was expected to be a greater increase of about 7.5 percent. They said any increase will have a negative effect on the farming communities throughout the county.
Already, 7,500 local avocado farms were shut down due to high water prices, said Eric Larson with the county's Farm Bureau. Many other crops could follow after the rate hikes were approved Tuesday.
The Water Authority argues that the rates may actually put more pressure on county businesses while they also pay more for water. They pushed for 3 percent rate increases at the most.
"What Metropolitan is doing is shifting a portion of costs that belong to other parts of southern California, on to San Diego county rate payers," said Jason Foster with the San Diego County Water Authority.
Foster added that the approved budget fails to recognize reduced water sales and ratepayer concerns.
Tension between the two agencies has been high since 2003 when San Diego decided to buy a large portion of their water from the Imperial Valley, while still using Metropolitan's pipeline. Metropolitan enacted a separate transportation fee, which the Water Authority said included unnecessary expenses.
Since that decision, the two agencies have launched into a "water war." A website aimed at fighting potential increases like Tuesday's featured a clock counting down the seconds until the board's vote.
The rates will go into effect Janurary 2013 and January 2014 respectively. It will be several months until the San Diego Water Authority sets its prices for next year and local utilities as well. Larson expects the increase to be in the single digits, but that with water rates doubling since 2006, the prices are already too high.