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San Diego County's water supply is in a good spot, but it comes at a cost

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Posted at 5:31 PM, Jun 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-02 12:50:55-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - Starting Wednesday, residents in much of Southern California will have to limit how much water they use.

The Metropolitan Water District declared a water shortage emergency in April and took the unprecedented action of limiting outdoor watering for millions of residents in Los Angeles, Ventura and San Bernadino counties.

Some local water districts like Vallecitos issued new restrictions for customers, asking them to irrigate three times a week from now to October.

Right now, San Diego County is sitting in a really good spot. The San Diego County's Water Authority has worked to diversify where our water supply comes from, like from the new water recycling plant in Santee.

RELATED: Groundbreaking on new East County water recycling plant

While these efforts have allowed San Diegans to conserve and preserve our water, the price to get here has made others like Rainbow Municipal Water District and Fallbrook Public Utility District try to find other solutions.

According to the San Diego County Water Authority, while the rest of the state is placing restrictions on water usage, our county does not have to worry.

"To become drought resilient what we did about 30 years ago was start to develop additional water supplies that aren't impacted by drought in Northern California," explains Water Resources Manager, Jeff Stephenson shares.

You can see from this graph, just how diverse SDCWA has become. But it comes at a cost.

According to the AP, our water is among the highest in the country, costing about 26% more at the wholesale level compared to other Metropolitan Water Districts.

"The good news is we have those supplies in a drought and they are available when we need them," explains Stephenson. "Other parts of the state that have not invested in supplies are going to have to do that now, and it's going to cost more for them to do that now than it cost us when a value of a dollar was different than it is now."

But it is those costs that are pushing Rainbow Municipal Water District and Fallbrook Public Utility to look elsewhere.

"Now the price has gone up about 8% a year for the last 10 years, and they are forecasting to go up maybe another 50% in the next five years," shares Tom Kennedy, the General Manager with Rainbow Municipal Water District. "We just can't afford that."

For the last three years, Kennedy says they have been working on detaching from the San Diego County Water Authority. He shares that about 65% of their water goes to their agricultural users.

Rainbow, along with Fallbrook are looking to move their business to the Eastern Municipal Water District where Kennedy says both Rainbow and Fallbrook would be given the same water, yet ratepayers would save about $8 million a year.

"It's a significant savings," explains Kennedy. "And for an area that has seen its only real local economy, which is agriculture be decimated over the last 15 years. It's a major imperative to find them more cost-effective supplies, with the same reliability from the same sources."

But could their leaving make your bill even higher?

The San Diego County Water Authority does not support the two districts' requests to leave. On their website, they say that their leaving would increase costs for ratepayers and decrease water reliability.

But the districts say otherwise. Kennedy says that if they left, it would only be a 1.5-2% reduction in the water authority's annual revenue.

Kennedy says while the efforts to conserve and preserve our water supply is great, they wish it was more affordable.

"Supply reliability is great, but if you can't afford the water and you're out of business," explains Kennedy. "It doesn't do you any good."

The San Diego County's Water Authority does admit to having high costs and high prices but says that, unlike other areas that are now having to have water restrictions, we are more than ready if and when we find ourselves in a drought.

As far as if, and when, Rainbow and Fallbrook could change their Water Authority, their staff report is expected to be done this summer, with a decision to come this fall.