The Goleta Water District’s 85,000 customers are confronting a serious case of spigot shock as district administrators push for rate increases they say are desperately needed to keep the $700-million enterprise solvent in the coming years. On the table are four rate proposals that would raise roughly $6 million a year for the next five years; the only difference is the extent to which the burden is imposed on existing customers or new development. Either way, it appears the average water bill for single family homes will be increasing from $60 a month to $72, while brand-new water-main hookups could possibly jump from $26,000 to $45,000. For the Goleta Water District, good news and bad news have been one and the same. With heavy winter rains the past few years, water consumption has hit historic lows, with an attendant plunge in sales revenues.
District executive John McInnes discovered shortly upon taking the helm last year that the district had absolutely no money in reserves and about $16 million in capital needs that he said could no longer be put off. Rate increases are never popular, and agricultural interests have complained that the new rates could prove fatal. Likewise, many commercial customers have argued that a recession is not the time to pass along such increases. McInnes acknowledged there will be economic pain, but said, even with the increases, the Goleta ag and commercial rates would be among the lowest on the South Coast. McInnes acknowledged the district’s financial pinch has been exacerbated by the $7 million it has to pay every year for its entitlement to water from the State Water Project — water, he admitted, the district rarely uses. Still, he added, those entitlements comprise a major insurance policy for the district. Were it not for State Water, he said, all the district’s existing water supplies would already be spoken for.