A proposed hike in city water rates has some residents asking, are we being punished for cutting back on our water use?
"It's not punishment," said the San Diego Director of Public Utilities Halla Razak.
She is asking the city of San Diego to raise water rates next year 16.7 percent. The director said the increase is needed because conservation due to drought restrictions means less money is coming into the water department. Plus, water costs have risen.
"The customers have done a great job cutting back," said Razak, "but I need to capture these costs and that's why we need to raise the rates."
If the proposal is approved by the San Diego City Council, the first increase would be 9.8 percent and take effect Jan. 1, 2016. The second 6.9 percent increase is slated for July 1, 2016. Last year the city approved a 7.5 percent increase.
Many took to Facebook to weigh in on the proposal.
"I believe everyone should share the consequences of the water shortage," Rena Krystle wrote. "The people are required to cut back and the water department should bare with it until the shortage is over."
Paul Monson Rockwood said: "We are doing everything we can think of to cut back on water and it is working, and they want to punish us?"
Razak said that the water department's operating costs are the same whether people conserve or not and that the increase is necessary.
"Water is a fickle thing," said Razak. "With the drought and with what is happening with climate change, we have to start looking at our water use and how much we pay for water in different ways because the reality is changing."
The proposed increase will be discussed by the city council's Environment Committee on Aug. 5. After that the full council will set a date for a public hearing and then vote on the change.
Matthew Hunter said on Facebook that he doubts the city will go along with the idea: "The city council better not approve a rate hike or they may not be re-elected."
Bob Gardner is frustrated the change. "The only constant with government is that they will always want more money," he said.
Razak said 36 percent of the water department budget is for buying water and imported water costs have gone up. She told NBC 7 in 2003, it cost them $500 for an acre foot of water; today that same amount costs the water department $1,300.
The drought only assures people that they will continue to have water, not that water rates will stay low, according to Razak.
"Cutting down on water use was not about saving money," she said, "but rather saving water because of the drought."