After two days of discussion and public forums, the Montecito Water Board unanimously approved the Montecito Water District’s proposed tiered block rate structure on Wednesday evening. “We should know in four or five months if it will work, and if it doesn’t, we can look at flow restrictors and other actions,” said board president Dick Shaikewitz. He noted that none of the board members could predict the actions of large users of the district’s water who haven’t responded to district correspondence informing them that their consumption exceeded normal levels. “Only time will tell.”
Copious public commentary and suggestion prompted the board and district staff to amend the new rate structure during their Wednesday, August 20 meeting. “This shows responsiveness to the community,” said Tom Mosby, the district’s general manager. “This is a substantial change based on the input of the community.” The district changed the break from the first block into the second for single family homes, meaning that now, any usage up to 25 hundred cubic feet (HCF) per month will be charged the base rate of $3.90 per unit. In the original plan, single family residence customers had only 20 HCF before they made the jump to the next higher rate of $4.15. Furthermore, multifamily residential units had their first-tier maximum changed from seven to nine HCF per month.
Agricultural customers will be required to pay the same base rate as all other customers for the first 20 HCF they use every month, but everything from 21-870 HCF will be sold at the discounted rate of $1.76 per unit. Shaikewitz said that some of the district’s customers had trouble understanding why farmers get a lower rate, but explained that in the past, when Montecito was a largely agrarian community, water was sent to farmers untreated, so they didn’t have to pay for treatment. Now that all water is treated, it would cost the district more to provide infrastructure to deliver the untreated water to agricultural customers than it costs to simply give them a discounted rate.
Commercial users will be charged a higher base rate of $4.25 per unit, due to what Moseby said are their more demanding infrastructure and service reliability requirements compared to most residential customers. The rate block divide for institutional and commercial customers will be determined by each user’s three year average usage.
The district’s service charges will also be raised by approximately five percent. Dave Novis, a Summerland resident and district customer, pointed out that unlike Montecito, the Goleta and Carpinteria Water Districts have a special incentive rate for customers who use less than four HCF per month. “I see nothing about conservation,” said Molly Rosecranz, a 40 year Montecito resident. “Give us an incentive.”
Carpinteria Water District General Manager Charles Hamilton showed up to offer his two cents during the public hearing. “As managers, we have to think and plan regionally and globally, but we have to report to local populations,” he said. “It’s very important that you provide as broad a definition of agriculture as you can.” Bob Roebuck, former water resources manager for the City of Santa Barbara, and former general manager of the Montecito Water District, voiced concern about the continuous growth of water consumption in Montecito. “The lines have crossed,” he said. “Water demand has exceeded water supply. I commend your actions. The inclined block rate structure is the engine in the water conservation car. I know this works-we used it in the City of Santa Barbara. You don’t know what effect it will have, but you have to move forward with it to see where it goes.”