The San Diego city is implementing proposed rate increases to guarantee safe drinking water, improve aging infrastructure, and enhance customer service technology. This decision, which could see rates increase by 10.2% and 8.7% in the next few years, has raised concerns about the necessity and efficacy of such a financial move.
According to the Public Utilities Department (PUD), the city must fund and routinely update its infrastructure in compliance with the state and federal regulations. The city's water rate structure must reflect the full cost of providing these essential services, which include maintaining the infrastructure and responding to demands for improved customer service.
Water rates in San Diego have long been a contentious issue, with much of the discord stemming from the city's reliance on imported water. Roughly 59% of PUD's Fiscal Year 2024 budget is expected to be dedicated to purchasing imported water, while the remaining 41% will compensate for maintenance, debt service, and other necessities. This reliance on expensive external water sources ultimately contributes to the high costs of maintaining a clean water supply for the city's 1.4 million residents.
San Diego's efforts to reduce its dependence on imported water continue with the ongoing investment in the Pure Water Program, a landmark water recycling initiative that aims to generate nearly half of the city's water supply locally by the end of 2035. This ambitious project seeks not only to bolster local water reserves, but also to lessen the financial burden on ratepayers and taxpayers.
Improving customer service remains another driving force behind the proposed rate hikes. Over the past six months, PUD has made substantial progress in expanding online access to water and wastewater services, implementing a modernized phone system, and recruiting and training customer support staff.