San Bernardino Raises Groundwater Rates 18%

At a recent public hearing, the Board of Directors of the San Bernardino Valley Water Conservation District (SBVWCD) established new Groundwater Charges for the 2008-2009 water year. The new rate will be $7.85 for non-agricultural purposes and $2.18 per acre foot for agricultural purposes.

These changes reflect an 18-percent increase in the rates SBVWCD has been charging since 2005 for maintaining and managing groundwater supplies and recharge facilities within the Bunker Hill Basin.

"The district prepares an Annual Engineering Investigation to help determine the groundwater charge," explains SBVWCD General Manager Robert Neufeld. "The Engineering Investigation studied conditions in the Bunker Hill Basin and relevant changes in production and capacity. It ultimately revealed a significant shortfall in funding for our key programs."

The decision to increase the groundwater rate is driven in large part by the sharp decline in SBVWCD's mining revenues. The district's monthly revenue from mining royalties went from $120,000 in August of 2005, to $2,240 for the immediately preceding month. There is no expected recovery in this important component of the district's overall revenue picture.

"As a result of our efforts, water users have been getting inexpensive local water that may otherwise flow down the river to Orange County," says SBVWCD Board President Melody McDonald. "Our programs help to keep the local retail water districts' costs down so customers don't feel a big increase in their water bill. This is an unprecedented water rate increase necessary to help make up a small portion of other lost revenues. We have only increased the rates three times in the past 15 years."

SBVWCD has fixed and levied the groundwater charge since 1994 under the California Water Code. SBVWCD adopted the new groundwater rates following a series of public meetings and opportunity for comment.

"The Conservation District has seen significant declines in income from our sand and gravel mining leases due to the national economy and the local construction slowdown," added McDonald. "Even with this increase, our fees continue to be the lowest in the state. Our commitment to capturing and spreading water has proven to be very cost effective for our customers and significantly reduces the need to buy expensive imported water."