San Diego Approves Water Rate Hike

Officials say without the rate hike, the city's credit rating could be at risk

tap water faucet
Tim Graham

Water rates for San Diego residents are expected to go up by more than seven percent next year -- but officials say without the extra charges, the city's credit rating could be at risk.

The rate hikes – 7.25-percent as of January 1st, and again a year later -- were approved Thursday on an 8-to-1 San Diego City Council vote.

The City is also on the hook for its sewer treatment system and the expansion of its water reuse program.

These sewer fees are based on water use and conveyed with water and storm water charges on one bill.

It’s a cost which the Council ruled must be covered by ratepayers.

Rate-hike opponents object to the "top-tier" rates in the new pricing structure projecting higher-than-average hikes for homeowners with lawns and landscaping and, large families.

Councilmembers saw angry, desperate signs reflecting hard times for a lot of water ratepayers, frustrated because San Diegans have reduced water use by 30 percent over the past five years.

“The rate structure is an underhanded attempt to carry the weight of increased water service on the backs of the hardest working people of this community," said Chris Rizzuti of Rancho Bernardo.

Margaret Stevenson owns her Mission Hills home and said she’ll really feel the effects of the increase.

"The raising of the rate on our water usage is on the higher tier -- which we'll be in -- will be a killer for us, amounting to almost doubling our water bill," Stevenson said.

For tenants of rental units, there'll be pass-through water-rate increases from their landlords.

Officials say it's unavoidable because the city refused to pass on to its customers the last set of rate hikes from the region's supplier the Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Water District whose charges are the subject of a billion-dollar-plus lawsuit.

Without payments this time around, there may be credit downgrades that raise San Diego's cost of borrowing.

Facing that civic reality, homeowners are adjusting their realities.

"One of the changes I'm going to have to look at is, do I let my landscape guy go? What am I doing to do here? Do I put in AstroTurf? What do I do?" asked Dennis Rogers of Sorrento Valley.

The city expects a decision next month in the Metropolitan Water District case. It's likely to be appealed, so officials wanted to cover new charges now.

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