Why are Santa Barbara Water Rates Still High?

By an edhat reader

I find it curious that water rates are still where they were when we were in a severe drought. I called City Utilities about this and was told that we only did not have an additional rate increase in 2020 because of Covid19.
They also said that groundwater has not come back to where they want it and that they have to buy state water? Haven’t they always bought state water?

Why can they not reduce rates with the proviso that they may be raised again if we go into a severe drought again?


Written by Anonymous

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  1. The SBPWD propaganda is relentless. Yes they are buying SWP. They have a long term contract to buy SWP water and this is not an act of emergency. The ground basin is being charged but could be much more filled if we sent recycled and sanitarily treated water from our sewage system into it as do other more sophisticated and efficient districts. We could also put SWP water in this location while it is available at low cost. We are selling desalinated water to Montecito that is much more expensive to produce than SWP water costs, so that is bizarre. We paid for connections to bring water to Montecito at SB ratepayer expense. That was a ridiculous sell out and gift to Montecito users. We have agreed to operate the desalination plant for 50 years despite it producing the most expensive water in the state and nation. This is a boon to the contractor and to Montecito who can take or leave what is being produced. It just goes on and on. There is the smell of scandal in this department but it may just be goofy incompetence.

  2. We have to pay for the $55M desal plant retrofit and the $17M cost overrun, Montecito is not going to pay for that. And each year salaries and benefits and operating costs go up and we have to pay for that as well. Let’s face it, no municipality ever decreased their rates without being forced. No bureaucracy ever thought that they were being given too much money.

  3. It’s government. Taxes never go down, rate increases never expire, salaries always go up even in a global economic shutdown. People complain about Cox, but I don’t need cable to live and my water bill for a family of 4 with a dead lawn and dying yard is almost 4x my Cox bill.

  4. Yes I’ve wondered if this is normal rates, I live with my wife and 2 kids and our water bill averages $230 a month, and we are hardly home, we have no leaks, but we do have a washing machine, and we do not use our dishwasher, does that sound normal?

  5. Probably in part because we conserved to such a great extent during the drought and have not fully returned to our profligate ways regarding usage, thus producing reduced revenue and resulting in the need to keep rates high. Not to mention the less talked about pension liability the city is obligated to meet (like the county and many jurisdictions statewide – a ticking time bomb.)

  6. In all of those 27 Comments only 2 references to Desal. It is disappointing that so few people know the facts of one of your most important Government functions, how do we get water service. I know the City tries to do effective Public education but people have to have some initiative to participate. Water rates in SB will never go down for the rest of our lives. Water rates in Southern California never go down. It isn’t a business but it about as close to a business as you can get. 90% of the Budget are fixed costs that must be paid by contract, and never go down. Neither the Administration nor the Council can do anything about that. Yes we have high employee costs but if you want to best and brightest that is what you pay. I believe it is worth it. Joshua Haggmark, Water Resources Manager and Rebecca Bjork, Public Works Director, are as good as they get. Those are highly sought after jobs. Hundreds of highly qualified people applied for both. Joshua and Rebecca got them. After saying all that it is Desal. Desal Desal. The total cost of the Desal Facilities is approaching $100 mil. That all has to be paid through the financing that was used and that is funded by your water rates. It is by far the most expensive water we have and there is no going back now. The 2 Comments that did reference Desal both have several “facts” wrong. Montecito will pay to SB all costs of providing service. That Agreement was the product of literally years of negotiations and the City prevailed. Montectio has to pay their contracted amount whether they take the water or not. “Just the facts, Ma’am!”

  7. I don’t know Joshua but Bjork was responsible for the 17M cost overrun on the desal plant and was rewarded with the promotion to Public Works Director. I find it very curious that they do nationwide searches but almost always end up hiring an existing employee that is friends with the interviewers. But probably has a lot to do with being able to get top managers to come to SB given the high cost of houses here.

  8. I own one 7 unit rental property and do appreciate the comments regarding how to conserve water.
    My monthly bill averages over $500 (including small amount for landscaping)
    I have another 4 unit property where there is almost no landscaping with bill averaging over $420/mth.
    These figures are double what they were before the increases. I understand the cost for the meter, etc.
    The City needs to be held accountable for where the increased revenue is going and how they are running the Utility business. I note that the current focus of City Council members is on how to help tenants be protected regarding tenant rights. This is fine BUT what about protecting all the tenants (who end up with higher rent due to higher expenses having to be met by landlords) AND protecting all the homeowners who still face very high water bills even when being environmentally conscious?

  9. When “hundreds of highly qualified people” apply for our city jobs, I don’t worry about losing any of our current, highly paid employees. I reject the idea somehow they can extort any compensation package they want. Good enough at fair compensation rates is good enough, when this city is already over-budgeted and has a city council that willingly stuck a knife in the back of the local economy. The numbers of $300-400K a year city employees shocks the conscience, particularly when they oversee and even foster so much mismanagement of this city and its limited resources. We now have too many on city staff who push unlimited growth, just to fund their own compensation packages and back fill their own pension accounts – that sort of city employee is worth nothing to me. Far better to get city staff who respond to the residents, and not their own pocketbooks.

  10. Reminder: voters themselves approved both the desal plant and state water in a now notorious post-drought election when Cachuma was at one of its lowest points, and ironically right before a “March Miracle” storm that brought it almost back to full capaccity. Can’t blame the city for either of these issues – city voters pushed by competing special interest groups demanded the city do both: desal and state water.

  11. My theory is that they told us for months & months “Conserve, Conserve, Conserve” and since we did such a good job at conserving water the city was actually loosing money so in turn now that we have water (for now) they need to charge higher rates to recoup the money the city lost. We’re screwed no matter what we do.

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