An emergency plan to cut water consumption in the city of Ventura could lead to a significant rate increase--with Ventura residents paying much more for their water even though they will be using less of it.
Officials say they are studying a rate increase to make up for a projected drop in city revenue if customers begin rationing water in April.
"We've talked about one with more tiers, something that could be in place after the mandatory program's not there," said Shelley Jones, city public works director.
Jones declined to say how much water rates would increase but said they would be raised to keep up with operational costs and to monitor the rationing program. Officials expect a 30% drop in water consumption and a similar drop in city revenue.
Although the drop will help conserve dwindling water supplies, city officials expect the costs of running the water system and monitoring water conservation to continue at present levels, he said. A study on a rate increase is expected in May, and residents might see the increase on their bills by July, he said.
Councilman Jim Monahan, who heads a city committee studying water needs, said a rate increase is inevitable and probably will be recommended to the City Council in coming months. Rate increases have followed in other cities that have imposed a mandatory water rationing program, he said.
"They're projecting a 30% drop in water consumption," Monahan said. "Venturans better brace themselves, it's coming."
In Goleta, where a rationing program was imposed last May, all water rates were increased, and some customers saw a 30% increase in their bills in September, said Hershal Skidmore, administrative manager for the Goleta Water District.
Ventura's proposed rate increase is only one of several measures designed to force water customers to conserve water as the city faces its worst dry spell in more than a quarter of a century.
City officials on Monday will consider a mandatory rationing program for residential and business users and a freeze on water hookups until the water problem eases.
Under a plan endorsed unanimously by the Ventura City Council last week, the city's 25,000 residential and business customers would face strict limits on water consumption, and violators would be fined for exceeding their allocations.
Residents are being asked to curtail water use by between 30% and 40%. Businesses are being asked to cut back on water by about 15%.
Ventura residents have already seen water rates jump almost every year during the 1980s, even when there has not been a drought.
Last year basic water rates jumped by 4% for moderate-use customers and 6% for those who use large amounts. For the past five years residents have seen water bills rise an average of 4% per year.
City officials have suggested that water rates could climb by 33% by summer.
The next rate increases could also come with some significant changes in billing.
Under study is a four-tiered billing system that would increase the penalty for customers who use large amounts of water. The city now bills at only two rates without penalizing customers who use more water.