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We finally had a wet winter and there is snow in the mountains. Everywhere you look you see a story about the drought being over and reservoirs filling up. Unfortunately that message is not the same in Rancho Water’s service area. In short, one year of heavy rain won’t erase the many years of drought that have severely impacted our local water supplies.
Unlike many of our neighboring agencies who rely extensively on imported water, a significant portion of the District’s water supply comes from local water. Local water can range from approximately 30 to 40% of the entire District’s water supply. This is a huge benefit for our customers as it keeps our rates lower. Imported water costs over five times as much as what the District from its local groundwater and water from Vail Lake which is used to replenish groundwater. During the last several years of drought Rancho Water customers benefited greatly from the District’s use of local water from the ground and from Vail to offset the rising costs of imported water, all the while these sources were significantly reduced due to the minimal rainfall. Even after all of the recent rains this winter, our groundwater supply is 30% lower than normal and Vail Lake is only at 35% capacity.
Groundwater storage works like a large bank account. We run deficits in dry times, taking out more than we deposit (more pumping than recharge); and we run savings in wet times, depositing more into the account than what we withdraw (more recharge than pumping). Ideally, over the longer term, the savings match the withdrawals. But during the last several years of drought Rancho Water customers benefited greatly from the District’s use of local groundwater to offset the rising costs of imported water, all the while these sources were significantly reduced due to the minimal rainfall. We need many years of wet weather for our “account” to catch up.
The District captures as much rainfall as we can. Heavy rains behind Vail Dam in Vail Lake are later slowly released into large, sandy, spreading basins to help refill the groundwater, just like Mother Nature does. All the other storm water that the District can’t capture from heavy rains makes its way downstream to be used by other agencies along the way.
Our groundwater supply offers the community so many benefits and managing it is our top priority. We are finding new ways to bring in more imported water when it is available to put into the ground. We are also implementing projects to more than double the amount of raw water we help treat through a soil filtration process to offset having to buy more costly pre-treated imported water. And we continue to put to use all the recycled water that is available to us.
The District appreciates your efforts to use water efficiently. Rancho Water encourages customers to continue being water efficient and conserve by staying within their budgets. Water is a finite resource and needs to be used efficiently in order to ensure a continued reliable supply. Water budgets are customized to each individual property to give each customer an appropriate amount of water to meet their needs and to encourage water efficiency. Only customers wasting water will pay the higher tiered rates.
The City of San Juan Capistrano rate case found that San Juan Capistrano’s tiered rate structure was unconstitutional because it charged more for water than it cost the city to provide the service. Water providers must demonstrate that fees correspond to the cost of providing the service. If heavy water users cause a water provider to incur additional costs, it would then be legal to charge the users for those increases. Rancho Water’s budget based tiered rate structure sets costs at different tiers based on the cost of the water service being provided. Rancho Water has groundwater as one source of water that is significantly less expensive than imported water therefore the first tier of water is charged less as it represents the cost of service for groundwater. Moving up in the tiers customers are paying for the higher imported fees that the District has to pay.
Rancho Water has one of the largest natural underground water sources in Southern California. The Temecula area aquifers supply the district with 30% of its water. Imported Water: Rancho Water also purchases water from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. This agency imports water from Northern California and the Colorado River. Water delivered to homes and businesses is a blend of well water (30%) and imported water (65%). Water Recycling: Highly treated wastewater (5%) is used to irrigate some golf courses and large landscaped areas. Thirsty Southern California is using more and more recycled water for irrigation in order to save its precious well water and imported water for drinking and household use.