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Posted on: February 14, 2021

Guest Column: Suzanne McCombs, Water Commissioner

Suzanne McCombs

Rarely do we think about the value of water. We turn on the faucet to fill a glass without considering everything that is required to bring safe, reliable water to our homes: 385 miles of water lines, 290 miles of sewer lines; nineteen pump stations, eleven lift stations, ten wells or all the treatment processes required. We hop in the shower without a thought about where the wastewater goes when it enters the drain or how it is cleaned before being released to the environment. 

Ventura’s water and wastewater systems are vital to our community’s health and well-being and allow our local economy to thrive. 

Approximately every five years, the City must evaluate water and wastewater rates to ensure rates that are fair for all City users and to generate sufficient revenue to maintain and operate our existing systems and invest in improvements and new facilities. The Water Commission plays a key role in this process on behalf of the residents of the City, working with City staff and outside consultants to consider key assumptions in the rate study and evaluating how proposed rates will affect our residents and businesses. Ultimately, City Council must decide on whether or not to proceed with rate increases based upon the analysis presented.

Results of the most recent rate study being finalized show that an annual rate increase of seven percent for water service and six percent for wastewater service is needed in each of the next five years to secure our water supply, replace and repair aging infrastructure, improve water quality, and meet legal and environmental regulations. 

For an average homeowner, this increase will be a monthly increase of $7.76 on an average basis in each of the next five years. While this may seem expensive, we have been fortunate that it has been more than three years since the last increase in water rates. Ventura rates are lower than the average in nearby communities and will continue to be even if the proposed increases are implemented. 

We can no longer afford to defer critical investment to maintain our water and wastewater infrastructure, as it puts us at risk for loss of service and more expensive “repairs” in the future. Responsible investment now allows Ventura Water to address needed projects proactively, not reactively—and keep the cost of water affordable for current and future customers. 

Setting rates is a lengthy process with a clear goal: keep rates fair while ensuring safe and reliable services. As a City we need to invest in the right solutions at the right time. The City is currently facing many challenges such as increasingly demanding environmental regulations, new legal mandates, aging infrastructure and vulnerable water sources.

In the next six years, Ventura Water has more than fifty water and wastewater improvement projects planned to address these challenges and requirements, including ambitious initiatives such as the State Water Interconnection Project and VenturaWaterPure Project.

Through the rate study, City staff and an experienced financial consultant, establish how to fund and finance capital improvement projects, routine maintenance and operational needs. Alternatives are presented to Water Commission for review and evaluation. We consider how to best meet the objectives of fair water rates for all customer classes, drought surcharges, and wastewater charges so that total projected revenue will recover costs.

Over the past year, the Water Commission has extensively reviewed and evaluated the data provided by City staff and the financial consultant. We believe that the current proposed rate increases are needed to meet our community’s needs to have safe, reliable drinking water and to responsibly clean and recycle its wastewater.

My colleagues and I have asked hard questions, explored various scenarios, and considered input from the public. We have carefully considered the impacts of rate increases on low-income residents, our business community, high and low water users; all while seeking solutions that are fair to all customers.

The Water Commission has worked diligently to make responsible policy recommendations. I hope you will join me in supporting necessary investments in our water and wastewater future.

Learn more about proposed rate changes at www.VenturaWaterRates.net.

Suzanne McCombs, Ventura Water Commissioner

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