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November 24, 2021

SV Water District Approves Planned Rate Increase

No news is good news, goes the old adage.

And Scotts Valley Water District officials are hoping that’s the message they should take from the amount of public comment they got before approving a 5% rate hike—virtually zilch.

“We had no one,” said Piret Harmon, the District’s general manager, when asked how many people spoke on the topic at their Oct. 14 meeting. “We got zero people.”

In fact, after sending hard copy information to every single customer, promoting the meeting at the mayor’s State of the City address, blasting out e-newsletters, sharing social media updates and stopping in at Rotary, the Chamber of Commerce and the Senior Life Association, the District heard scarcely a peep about the plan to raise rates.

“We got four letters opposing the proposed increases,” she said. “Last time we got several hundred.”

Perhaps it was an easy pill to swallow, in comparison with the 25% increase ratepayers were hit with in 2016.

In 2017 customers saw rates rise 15%, then 3% in 2019 and 10% in 2020.

Rates are now set to rise by a maximum of 5% each year—although it could be less (a 10% increase had originally been approved for 2019).

“We were just talking today … about how little fanfare there was, considering how it went five years ago,” Operations Manager Dave McNair said Tuesday. “We’ve done a ton of outreach.”

The new rate schedule, which was approved unanimously, projects for revenue to increase from $6.8 million in fiscal 2021 to $9.2 million in fiscal 2026.

That should be enough to cover operating and capital expenses, debt payments and maintain a healthy reserve balance, District officials say.

“We have a 50-60-year-old system,” Harmon said. “Things are starting to need quite a bit of repair.”

The District hopes to replace one well and to dig a new backup well. Each one will cost about $1.5 million, once design, permits and drilling are factored in.

There are currently four wells the District uses to tap into two different aquifers in the Santa Margarita Groundwater Basin.

It is the only water user to pump from the approximately 1,000-foot-deep Butano aquifer and maintains two wells there. It also has two wells into the approximately 700-feet-deep Lompico aquifer, which the San Lorenzo Valley Water District sources water from, too, Harmon said.

The basin’s underground water level dropped in the 1980s and 90s, but it’s actually been rising slowly—even through the very dry years, she added.

That’s partly because Scotts Valley residents have been using less water overall (not just per capita), as homes become more efficient and architects favor native landscaping and drip irrigation instead of overhead-spray systems.

The District is excited about the current project it’s been completing at the Orchard Run Water Treatment Plant to install a “Granulated Activated Carbon” filter, which has been in the works since 2010.

“Scotts Valley’s had a reputation of having not the best-tasting water, or the best smelling water,” said McNair, adding the new system is set to deliver a noticeably improved product. “It should be a lot more palatable for people.”

Drew Penner
Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected]

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