SAN DIEGO — According to Public Information Officer Noelle Denke for the Fallbrook Utility District, over the last decade, the San Diego County Water Authority has raised water costs for the Fallbrook and Rainbow Municipal Water Districts by an average of 8% per year.
As a result, the region has lost an estimated 10,000 acres of groves and 1 million trees. And now, water rates could go up 14%.
"The cost of water has become exorbitant. We've had farmers go out of business. We see stumped trees all over Fallbrook and Rainbow," said Denke.
So, why is this happening?
Denke said water agencies aren’t generating as much revenue, so they must raise prices. She also says the San Diego County Water Authority has invested in expensive "drought-proof" water supplies.
"This is unacceptable and unsustainable. Not only have these increases had a huge impact on our residential and business customers, but it is also a tremendous toll on our agriculture industry which is critical to our economy," said Denke.
It could especially impact farmers.
"From my point of view, I've been in this county a long time. I don’t believe the County Water Authority going up 14% is a good business. They need to back up, look at their expenses, and make an affordable price for water. Growers have very few alternatives. You can drill wells; in some areas, you can't get wells. In some cases, you must leave the business," said local avocado farmer Charles Wolk.
Since water is so expensive, Fallbrook and Rainbow have filed applications with the San Diego County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) to part ways with the San Diego County Water Authority and begin purchasing from the Eastern Municipal Water District.
"Switching water wholesalers will save our two water districts $7.6 million annually. It's huge," said Denke.
The next steps are for the LAFCO commission to review the application this summer. If approved, it will be brought to the voters of Fallbrook and Rainbow for final approval or rejection.
In the meantime, the San Diego Water Authority says it’s looking for ways to lower rates. The Water Authority says it will present a preliminary draft budget and rate information to the Board on March 23.
The Board also plans to host budget workshops open to the public in April.
“If Fallbrook and Rainbow were to leave the Water Authority without paying their share, residents across San Diego County would be forced to pay more than $16 million a year to cover those costs. That will push water rates higher for everyone else. At the same time, Fallbrook and Rainbow residents, farmers and businesses would lose access to highly reliable water supplies that San Diego County has invested in on their behalf over many decades. Hopefully, San Diego LAFCO can find an equitable way to protect all the ratepayers across the region,” said Ed Joyce from the San Diego Water Authority.
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