SAN DIEGO — A county commission will meet again in August to decide whether to allow two North County communities to switch water providers.
“We cannot afford to buy items, such as water, at the super-high rates for our farm to be sustainable,” said Kendall Farms CEO Jason Kendall, during Monday’s meeting at the County Administration Center.
The San Diego County Local Agency Formation Commission is considering a proposal to allow the Fallbrook Public Utility District and the Rainbow Municipal Water District to switch water service to Eastern Municipal Water District in Riverside County and cut ties with the San Diego County Water Authority.
The North County districts say the switch would save their customers $7.6 million a year.
“This is all about fairness. Over the last decade, the Water Authority has risen rates on Fallbrook and Rainbow by average of 8% each year. It’s not sustainable and this year we are facing a 14% increase,” said Noelle Denke, with Fallbrook PUD.
Growers say the Water Authority’s rate hikes are killing business and crops.
“We have reduced our overall water usage since we transitioned to a much more drought-tolerant plant. We’ve reduced our water usage 38%, but our costs have gone up 49%, even through that conservation effort,” said David Baxter, owner of Fallbrook Protea Farms.
The districts say they’re also paying for infrastructure and projects they do not benefit from.
The Water Authority has fought the proposed move, arguing while rates would go down for about 55,000 customers, three million customers around the county would end up paying more.
“Depending on how they’re allowed to leave and at what cost they’re allowed to leave, other agencies could build a pipeline and do similarly and so this is of great concern for the investments that have been made here in San Diego County,” said Sandy Kerl, the Water Authority’s general manager.
If allowed to detach, the districts would likely have to pay tens of millions of dollars for an exit fee.
The commission voted 5 to 3 to consider more options and meet again in August.
If eventually approved, a vote would go before the North County districts’ customers.