In the News

Soquel district passes water rate increase; dozens protest move, citing insufficient notice

By Kimberly White
Santa Cruz Sentinel, 2/6/13

CAPITOLA -- Ratepayers with the Soquel Creek Water District will pay an average of 9 percent more each year for their water starting next month, with the average bi-monthly bill going up by about $21 by 2015.

The Board of Directors unanimously approved the three-year increase after a nearly two-hour public hearing Tuesday. About two dozen spoke out against the proposal, many citing inadequate notice in a notification sent at the height of the holidays, and confusing charts and graphs used to explain the rate changes.

Some also charged they are being penalized for conserving water, which the district encourages but, in a twist of irony, results in fewer funds. Some also took issue with the district's plan to use some of the funding to pay for an environmental impact report related to the controversial desalination plant now being studied by the district and Santa Cruz Water Department.

"I am not in favor of the desal plant," said Soquel resident Joan Vanek, adding the latest increase "is not going to fund desal, but the next one is and it looks like it's going to happen no matter what."

Another Soquel resident, Rama Khalsa, offered up several suggestions, including that the district switch to a monthly billing system, and investigate the possibility of having private well owners pick up some of the costs to maintain the waterworks.

"They are definitely using the water and it doesn't make sense for the rest of us to be paying for all the improvements," she added.

The district provides water to about 38,000 customers, nearly all of them single-family homes. To prevent the increase from going into effect, a majority of the customers had to turn in written letters of protest by the end of Tuesday's public hearing.

The increase goes into effect March 1 and will raise about $4.7 million, which will largely be used to pay for about $25 million in capital improvement projects during the next three years. For example, work started this week on a yearlong project to replace a section of main on Soquel Drive, part of a $36 million plan to replace 14 to 16 miles of main during the next decade, according to Mike Wilson, the district's associate civil engineer.

Late last year, a new well began operating at the Santa Cruz County Polo Grounds off Soquel Drive, and construction will begin in the summer on another well at the O'Neill Ranch near Anna Jean Cummings Park. With three other wells slated to be built in the coming years, the district pegs those costs at about $4.6 million.

Meanwhile, a draft environmental review of the desalination plant is expected to be complete in late spring, according to Melanie Schumacher, the project's public outreach coordinator. The $1.7 million cost of that study is being split evenly between the district and the Santa Cruz Water Department.

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