All-American Canal
The San Diego County Water Authority upgraded the All-American Canal in Imperial County to reduce reliance on the Metropolitan Water District. Courtesy of the authority

Over the next several years, San Diego area residents will face a growing threat to their quality of life — soaring water costs from the San Diego County Water Authority the likes of which they have never seen before.  

According to its latest long-range financing plan, the Water Authority is set to raise water costs on San Diegans by 50% over the next five years beginning next year. This comes after years of escalating hikes that have averaged 8% a year over the past decade.  

These runaway increases have had a deep and wide impact on the people of San Diego County, especially those with low incomes, businesses, as well as our vital agricultural economy, which has been devastated, forcing many farming operations out of business.  

The ballooning costs are largely the result of decisions made years ago by the Water Authority to spend billions of dollars on water storage and recycling projects and on long-term contracts to purchase water.  

As Water Authority Board Chair Gary Croucher wrote last month, these projects were designed to boost local supplies and lessen our region’s dependence on imported water following severe shortages in the early 1990s .  

But while the Water Authority was pursuing these costly projects and contracts — and tacking on the costs to everyone’s monthly water bills — San Diegans were simultaneously answering the authority’s call to conserve water.

They tore out their lawns, planted drought-tolerant landscaping, installed low-flow shower heads and toilets, and took other actions, which have significantly reduced how much water our region consumes. In fact, San Diego’s regional demand for water has decreased 40% since the early 1990s. 

While water conservation is, of course, good, the bad news is our region now has far more water than it needs — and water customers across the region are paying for it through rising water bills.  

Unfortunately, the Water Authority has been slow to adapt to this reduced demand and bring water rates under control. 

Today, the Water Authority is obligated through “take or pay” contracts with Poseidon, the company that operates the desalination plant in Carlsbad, and with the Imperial Irrigation District to purchase their water whether it is used or not. Many water officials throughout San Diego have been urging the Water Authority to sell its excess water to outside water districts, but efforts so far have been anemic.  

The result — ratepayers are stuck paying for water they don’t use and will continue to do so for years to come unless the Water Authority gets serious.  

Dave Baxter is president of the Fallbrook Public Utility District board of directors. Hayden Hamilton is president of the Rainbow Municipal Water District board of directors