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Montecito Water Rate Hikes a Balancing Act

Monthly Service Charge for Most Single-Family Homes Could Go from $45 to $128 by 2024

Ralph Felix, plant manager at Santa Barbara's desalination plant — Montecito plans to buy some of its water for the next 50 years. | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

Which Montecito water customers should bear the greatest share of the $4.3 million yearly cost ofpurchasing Santa Barbara water for the next 50 years?

A draft overview of potential water rate increases, presented by the Montecito Water District board at a sparsely attended public workshop on Monday,included scenarios that would raise the monthly service charge for a ¾-inch water meter, standard for many single-family homes, from $45 now to up to $128 by 2024. Higher fixed charges would provide more fiscal stability for the district, the presentation showed, butsmall users would be hit with larger bills.

The Montecito water board wants to buy enough water from Santa Barbara to meet about a third of the community’s annual demand. The city would produce the extra supply at its $72 million desalination plant, but the water shipped to Montecito would come fromother city sources as well. The Montecito water board is scheduled to adopt rate hikes to pay for Santa Barbara water next April; they would go into effect onMay 1.

Under one scenario unveiled by the board this week, residential water bills, currently $142 per month, on average, would more than double to $291 by 2024, while commercial and institutional bills — for large users such as the cemetery, golf courses and hotels — would increase by 47 percent during the same period, from $851 per month now, on average, to $1,251.

With a city supply on hand, district officials said, Montecito could reduce its dependence on state aqueduct water, saving up to $1 million per year. The new rates would include increases to cover inflation, officials said, but would not cover the future costs ofdrawing up a groundwater sustainability plan, repairingdistrict storage tanks, or building a wastewater recycling plant.

On Tuesday, at its regular monthly meeting, the board for the first time announced its intent, in collaborationwith the Montecito Sanitary District, to supply non-potable recycled water for irrigation to the Santa Barbara Cemetery and other large customers. Estimates for that project range from $5 million to $16 million.

Melinda Burns is a freelance journalist in Santa Barbara.

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