Questions Asked, Questions Answered

From time to time Montecito Water District (MWD) receives questions regarding our water supply. Why is Montecito facing a possible severe water shortage while other South Coast entities are able to provide normal water deliveries to their customers?

Montecito is a unique community of large parcels and landscaped gardens where nearly 80% of our water is used outdoors. The amount of water used annually by our customers is not, as some believe, caused by new customers. Our high water demand is caused by outdoor use, which is strongly influenced by rainfall. Our existing customers are simply using more water than our available supply.

Where Does MWD Get Its Water?

Our reliable water supply comes from several sources. Jameson Lake (at the headwaters of the Santa Ynez River), Lake Cachuma, and our State Water entitlement provide most of our water. Jameson Lake and Lake Cachuma provide about 4,500 acre-feet (AF) of water during normal water supply years. (One AF equals 325,851 gallons.) Another 800 AF of water is provided through our Doulton Tunnel (connecting Jameson Lake to Montecito) and our groundwater basin (wells). Montecito has much less underground water than most of our neighbors. This total available local water yields about 5,300 AF. For the 2006/07 and projected 2007/08 water years, our water demand is in excess of 7,200 AF per year.

State Water — The Unknown Quantity

With customer usage exceeding the available supply, MWD relies on its State Water entitlement and spot purchases in the State Water market to bolster its water supplies to meet increasing customer demand. In 2006/07 the District was able to purchase 2,750 AF of State Water to supplement its normal local supplies. In this 2007/08 water year, the District is faced with a State Water Project water shortage which is expected to become even worse in 2009. In order to meet the current water demand levels, MWD must receive a minimum of 50% of its annual 3300 AF State Water entitlement. For 2008, the State Water Project will deliver 35% of entitlement and for 2009 the State Water Project is expected to deliver only 10%. Without at least 50% State Water Project deliveries, the District must find and buy supplemental State Water (when and if available) which comes at ever-increasing high costs.

Who Uses Our Water?

Water usage is divided among several classifications. The largest is the single- and multi- (apartments) family residential (S/MFR) which accounts for 94% of our customer accounts and about 79% of water used. Next are the Recreation and Institutional classifications with only 1.3% of the total accounts, but 9.4% of water usage. The Recreational and Institutional classifications include, but are not limited to, golf courses, horse ranches, schools, and special districts. Agriculture makes up only 1.1% of the total accounts with usage at 7.8%. Finally, our Commercial classification makes up 3% of MWD total accounts and uses 3.7% of our water.

Why The Proposed Conservation Rate Structure?

The customer classifications and their water usage patterns, as studied over the last several years, have resulted in the District proposing a new conservation rate structure which, through increasing pricing as more water is used, will encourage less usage. The proposed changes in the rate structure include a multi block rate structure for the S/MFR customers and an allocation block structure for the other classifications. The goal of the new conservation rate structure is to provide cost equity to all classifications and strongly encourage customer water conservation to reduce water usage to within the limits of our water supply.

For the S/MFR customers, a nominal block of water will be charged at the proposed $3.90 cost of service. As the amount of water used by this classification increases to over 60 hundred cubic feet (HCF) (44,880 gallons) per month, the price of water goes up substantially. The majority (80%) of our S/MFR customers use less than 60 HCF of water per month. The other 20% of our customers use over 60 HCF per month (68% of the S/MFR water). The highest usage customers, 120 units and above per month, make up only 5% of the total S/MFR customers but they consume 30% of the water supply. The proposed rate structure will greatly increase the water cost to the high-end users. They must either conserve to reduce their cost or pay for the increased cost for our acquiring more water when available.

Cost equity is also being proposed for the Recreation and Institutional customers who over the years have paid below the cost of service for their water. These two classifications are proposed to be consolidated into a new classification called Institutional and Public. This classification will now pay the same price for water as our S/MFR customer. With the cost of water as high as it is, the District and the community must recognize that the days of lower rates to some classifications must change. If we are going to reduce our water usage community-wide in order to live within our water supply limits, all classifications must participate in the proposed water conservation rate structure.

What Is a Water Shortage Emergency?

The severity of the current water supply shortage caused by such high customer usage and the reduction in the available State water entitlement may cause the District to declare a Water Shortage Emergency. This is an extreme temporary statutory emergency remedy. The District over its history has had to declare this Emergency condition several times, with the last one declared in 1973 and finally rescinded in 1993. Under this Emergency declaration, the District’s primary responsibility is to maintain and allocate the public water supply for the health and safety of the community. By this declaration, the use of potable water for outdoor use is curtailed so that the remaining available water supply is used for public health, safety and hygiene. MWD is continuing to look for water, but it will be costly if we find it. In the meantime, the District is committed to alerting our customers to the current water supply condition, and what steps are being taken in the best interest of the community.