Water rates in the City of Santa Barbara are going up again, this time by almost $30 a month for moderate water users — defined as those who use roughly 7,500 gallons a month. For low water users — 2,900 gallons a month — bills will be bumped by $2.45 a month. But for heavy users — 15,000 gallons a month or more — rates will increase by $78 a month.
Driving the City Council’s decision to increase water rates by a unanimous vote this Tuesday has been the drought. With customers using 35 percent less water than they used to, sales revenues are way down. At the same time, drought-related costs have gone up: $55 million to build the desalination plant and millions more to buy the supplemental water supplies needed to keep Lake Cachuma from going bone dry.
In the same meeting, the council authorized the expenditure of $500,000 to begin the serious design and legal work of negotiating a deal that would allow the Montecito Water District to buy 1,250 acre-feet of water a year from the city’s new desalination plant. Talks between the two agencies to this date have been much smoke with little fire, and only recently have they agreed how to split the cost of negotiations. At issue is how much Montecito will have to pay for the costs to build the new desal plant, including the pipes needed to connect the facility with Montecito, as well as its annual operating costs.
If and when the desal plant begins production early next year with an annual output of 3,125 acre-feet, there won’t be enough left over to sell to Montecito. To accommodate Montecito’s demand, major additions will need to be made. That work is estimated to take at least two years. Montecito water planners state they have secured enough out-of-county supplies to see them through to September 2019. By sharp contrast, Santa Barbara planners worry that they may not have enough to get through the summer of 2017 — even with the desal plant cooking — if it doesn’t rain. Currently under worst-case, what-if discussions are possible bans on outdoor irrigation and even a moratorium on new water hookups.