Escondido city councilmembers want to be fair when adjusting water rates, but water is scarce, and over the past year regional water suppliers have raised rates by 17.5 percent while reducing water allocations by 8 percent.
To address the water shortages and rate increases, the city wants Escondido residents to change their lifestyle and reduce their water usage by eight percent. At the same time, at an August 12 city council meeting, councilmembers voted to increase water rates by eight percent, raise wastewater fees by five percent in January, and increase agriculture rates by eight percent in February.
Director of Utilities for Escondido, Lori Vereker, said that while there has been a citywide reduction in water consumption, the city can't help it if Metropolitan Water District, the area's water supplier and the largest water supplier in the country, closes the water spigot while raising rates.
"The community as a whole has done pretty well on their cutbacks," said Vereker. In addition to Metropolitan Water District's new rates, Vereker says Escondido's water infrastructure is "aging" and "requires replacement and ongoing maintenance.”
"There has to be a change," said first-term councilmember Olga Diaz, who was one of four who supported the rate increase. "[We need to] accept that we live in a desert. It just can't be lush and green."
Though, for many of Escondido residents, increasing their rates on water while telling them to conserve the resource is telling them to pay more for less.
"As long as all of us are under a water alert level two and are sacrificing our lawns and facing increased water rates, I'm asking that the Escondido City Council postpone the approval of building permits until we are no longer in this situation," said one of the ten residents who spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting.
"The reality is we have to raise the water rates because the city can't absorb the expense," added councilmember Olga Diaz.
"We are making every effort to be fair," added councilmember Sam Abed. "It is a tough situation. Is it good timing to provide an eight percent water increase? Absolutely not. Do we have any other choice? I don't think we do."
Shortly after Abed's comments, the council voted four to one in favor of increasing rates. Councilmember Marie Waldron was the only councilmember opposed.