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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Rising Water Costs Prompt Two North County Communities To Look For Alternatives

Speaker 1: 00:00 San Diego County is in a drought. So it should be no surprise that water is getting more expensive, so expensive. In fact, that two small water districts in North County say they can get it cheaper by breaking away from their parent agency. The rainbow municipal water district and Fallbrook public utility district want to exit the San Diego County water authority and join another water district based in Riverside County. Joining me to explain what that means is KPBS North County multimedia producer, Alex, when Alex welcome. Thank you, Andrew. So these two water districts say that water is just too expensive in San Diego County. What makes them think they can get it for less money by joining a different agent agency? So Speaker 2: 00:44 They want to join a Riverside agency called the Eastern municipal water district. Tom Kennedy with the rainbow municipal water district says the difference between Eastern municipal and the San Diego County water authority is about $600 per acre foot. And the reason why other agencies may be cheaper right now, according to the water authority is because they have not made the same improvement on water reliability, and they are also in the process of making those same improvements. So the difference in cost over time may be negligible. Speaker 1: 01:17 Explain a bit more about how these water agencies are structured. It seems like there are just multiple layers of government that are stacked on top of each other. These are two local water districts. What's the difference between those water districts and then this larger agency, the San Diego County water authority? Speaker 2: 01:34 Well, the San Diego County water authority is a wholesaler. They buy water from other sources, such as the Colorado river or water from up North, and then sell it to a water districts within the County, for example, rainbow and Fallbrook, and also the city of San Diego. And there are about 24, four districts within the County of San Diego. So Speaker 1: 01:57 We know that agriculture is the top water user in these two smaller districts, Fallbrook and rainbow. Uh, you spoke with an avocado farmer in North County for this reporting. What are his thoughts on this proposal of breaking away from the San Diego County water authority? Well, Speaker 2: 02:12 This particular farmer that I talked to was a bit ambivalent about it. He says a reduction in rates would be great, but not if it costs more with the associated fees, such as the exit fees, the, uh, the fees that the San Diego County water authority is asking rainbow and Fallbrook to pay for, for all the improvements they've made on their behalf. So that's kind of where the tricky issue is. And I get a sense that's what a lot of farmers in that Eric is kind of feeling as well. Yeah, they would love to have reduced costs, but is worried what this might mean. If there's going to be a protective fight within the water authority and these two smaller agencies. So these Speaker 1: 02:53 Explain a bit more about what these exit fees are actually paying for the County water authority has been making improvements, water infrastructure, uh, and they've signed these long-term contracts. So why would it be that these smaller districts when they leave, have to pay a fee to, to make up for those costs? Speaker 2: 03:09 Well, cause they say that they've made this on behalf of everyone when they enter into these obligations to enter it on behalf of all 24 agencies and all 24 agencies have voted on it. Of course not everybody voted for it, but the majority did. So therefore it's a shared cost across the region. And that's the reason why they wanted Vic to make sure that rainbow and Fallbrook pay for it. That does not necessarily mean if the detachment process is approved, that of rainbow and Fallbrook will have to pay for it is up to the local agency that is determining whether they can detach or not to this to determine whether they need to pay or not. But the water authority is arguing that this is good for the whole entire region. We made this for everybody. And if they leave, that means everyone else has to pick up the tab. And it's not fair for everyone else. Speaker 1: 04:04 Part of the disagreement here just seems to be about cross subsidization. So the idea that these North County water customers are paying for infrastructure that is elsewhere in the County and that they might not be actually benefiting from. Is that right? Yeah. Speaker 2: 04:18 So rainbow and Fallbrook says, it's not fair that, you know, all these improvements are happening down South, which is benefiting the people down South and not the customers in the North. The water authority is counter arguing since yeah, these improvements such as the desalination plant in Carlsbad and the raising of the seven incentive dam is down South, but it also helps the people up North because during drought years, such as the one here, they can pull from those sources for the people down South freeing up the waters that is important from the North for the people in the North. So it balances out the system. So no one system is getting taxed. So either way it helps the people in the North as well as the South. Speaker 1: 05:04 Will it take for these two water districts to formally break free from the County water authority and join a different agency? Speaker 2: 05:11 It's in the hands of, what's known as the local agency formation commission, and they are a mediator when the two way when different public agencies have disagreements and they kind of settle the dispute. So right now what they're doing is they're looking at issues and they can weigh it and they can make the decision. And that decision is an expected until, you know, at the end of this year around fall or so after that, it's just not a done deal. Voters will then get to decide and the central County water authority once the whole entire County to vote on this while the Fallbrook and a rainbow just want their customers to vote on it. And that this issue is also being decided by LAFCo. Speaker 1: 05:55 I've been speaking with KPBS, North County, multimedia producer, Alex, when Alex, thanks for your reporting on this Speaker 3: 06:01 And thank you very much. Okay.

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Two water agencies that serve the Fallbrook and Rainbow areas want to separate from the San Diego County Water Authority. They say they could get better rates elsewhere.
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