PAJARO VALLEY—The Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency Board of Directors on April 21 approved a rate increase that board member and local farmer Javier Zamora said will be a “very difficult pill to swallow.”
PVWMA customers—consisting of residents living in the rural regions of South Santa Cruz County and North Monterey County, and growers operating in the same area—will see their rates increase each year for the next five years.
Landowners inside the designated delivered water zone, which crosses the Santa Cruz-Monterey county line and contains mostly properties west of Highway 1, will pay about $150 more per acre-foot by 2025-26, and those outside of the delivered water zone will see their rates increase by about $100 per acre-foot over the same time.
That doesn’t include an increase of roughly $110 per acre-foot for water delivery charges over five years.
Residents, meanwhile, will pay about $48 more per year by 2025-26.
The rate increases are needed for the agency to fund critical groundwater sustainability projects, according to a recent study. That includes the College Lake Integrated Resources Management Project and the Watsonville Slough System Management Aquifer Recharge and Recovery Projects that the agency has identified as key tools in meeting its state-mandated goals under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.
Those projects, among other things, seek to tackle groundwater overdraft, saltwater intrusion and groundwater contamination.
“As a board member, I see what the agency is doing in order to fix this issue that we’re facing right now with the saltwater intrusion,” Zamora said. “Future generations will have to face even more difficult situations. Perhaps they’re not going to be able to grow anything because, right now, us, people, growers, board members, community members, are not taking a step ahead and preventing this issue that our kids and grandkids will face.”
The board approved the rate increases—with an amendment pushing back the start date to Dec. 1—by a 5-1 vote.
Director Tom Broz was the lone “no” vote. He said he wanted to push back the public hearing to May so that more ratepayers could be involved in the process.
The agency received few written protests, staff said, and only three people talked during the public comment portion of the April 21 virtual meeting, a turnout that legal counsel Tony Condotti said was one of the lowest protest rates that he has seen for utility rate increases.
“Given that we had an unprecedented situation last year, and all that’s being asked is to have at least a delay in this so that there could be a little more input, to table it for a month will not really be a big ask,” Broz said.
The rate increases have been in the works since PVWMA in late 2019 formed a committee to determine how it would fund its Basin Management Plan projects. The committee delayed its work about a year because of the pandemic, but resumed its duties in January 2021 and voted in favor of the rate structure.
PVWMA held three virtual meetings about the rate increases leading up to the April 21 meeting.