Santa Fe Irrigation board considers new water rates

Escondido, CA - August 18: The lower water levels people might be seeing at Lake Hodges
Repairs continue on the Lake Hodges Dam.
(Don Boomer/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

At an Aug. 18 special meeting to review water rate structure alternatives, the Santa Fe Irrigation District board opted to pause and take more time to get additional details on its options.

The board had planned to make a decision on proposed new rate structures at its Sept. 29 meeting, selecting from options of tiered rates by water supply, tiered rates by meter size or budget-based rates, in which customers are given individual budgets and usage above the budget incurs a higher rate.

SFID Vice President Sandra Johnson said she had serious reservations about some of the plans and, in fairness to all ratepayers and herself as a board member, she would need a lot more information: “I cannot make an informed decision on any plan,” Johnson said.

The majority of the board supported taking a step back, seeking more of a “narrative” from its cost-of-service consultant, IB Consulting—a better breakdown on the district’s long-term financial plan, the assumptions behind the different rate alternatives and the impacts of each option on customers.

“We need to really look at this,” SFID Director Kenneth Westphal said.

The board received two public comments during its Aug. 18 meeting. Fairbanks Ranch resident Marlene King, a former SFID board member, echoed some of the directors’ concerns about a lack of data to support the proposed rates. In a written public comment, King said she would encourage the district to consider fewer tiers.

“Reviewing these alternatives it is once again clear the previously adopted cost-of-service study, with its somewhat late addition of a fifth tier, was determined to financially punish customers who required larger amounts of water because they have larger properties,” King said.

Bill Weber, speaking on behalf of the Rancho Santa Fe Association, advised taking more time before any structures or rates are approved. Looking at the presentation as an “amateur ratepayer”, Weber said the tiered structures are very complex and it’s hard to determine if the rates are fair.

“The new rates should reflect equity and a strategic investment in our future,” Weber said.

In January 2020, the board approved 3% water rate increases for the next three years with the new five-tier residential rate structure that differentiates between meter sizes in higher tiers. Due to a board decision, customers experienced no water rate increases last year.