FALLBROOK – This year, we at the Fallbrook Public Utility District have been concentrating on doing everything we can to save you money.
We've heard you, our customers, say that water costs are too high – unsustainable. We listened. And four years ago, we set out on a course to make a change. A big one.
We began working together with Rainbow Municipal Water District to change water suppliers – a move that will save both districts about $7.6 million a year. It was a feat that seemed nearly impossible as we faced hurdle after hurdle: numerous underhanded attempts to stop our switch, litigation against FPUD and Rainbow, a bill was introduced with an "urgency clause" – AB399 – to try to stop us from detaching, and finally a vote of our customers.
But big things happened in 2023. And beginning Jan. 1, 2024, we will officially detach from the San Diego County Water Authority and buy water that is less expensive from the Eastern Municipal Water District.
The result? The average FPUD residential customer will see about a 5% decrease on their monthly water bill. Without detachment, rates would have instead gone up 6.5% on Jan. 1, passing through the Water Authority's rate increases.
Agricultural customers will also see their bills go down. The amount will depend on the specific account type, water use and meter size.
This is a big win for our agricultural customers. In the past few years, the Fallbrook area has lost over a million trees and 10,000 acres of groves due to the high cost of water.
Getting here was a long, hard-fought battle. Each year, the Water Authority's cost to FPUD customers has risen by an average of 8%. We've had no choice but to pass through those rate hikes to our customers and we heard clearly from our customers that this wasn't sustainable.
So we filed an application with the San Diego Local Agency Formation Commission, or LAFCO, to make the wholesaler switch. LAFCO is the watchdog agency charged with overseeing such boundary changes. The issue was studied exhaustively by an independent expert water economist. There were many, many meetings and public hearings.
In July, we got the green light from the LAFCO commission to detach. We're being charged an $8 million "exit fee," paid over five years. But still, it was a huge win. That opened it up to a vote of FPUD and Rainbow customers.
It ended with you, our customers, overwhelmingly voting for us to detach in November. About 94% of FPUD voters and 95% of Rainbow voters voted to detach. This was a historic election and a battle we fought together with Rainbow.
The cost savings from detachment and buying cheaper water from Eastern will far outweigh the short-term exit fee costs. But the exit fee will delay the full realization of FPUD's cost savings.
The water being delivered on Jan. 1 will be the same water, off the same pipeline. It will just cost us a lot less money.
It will continue to meet or exceed all state and federal water quality standards. But that's not all – using local water is saving us money!
We began using water from the Santa Margarita River in 2021. Local water is less expensive than imported water.
By the end of 2023, we received about 3,385 acre-feet of water from the Santa Margarita River project. Since we sell/use about 7,000 acre-feet of water per year, this means that close to half of the water we used was from local water sources.
An acre-foot of water is enough water for about 2.5 families of four for a year.
We welcomed this new water source at the end of 2021. The Santa Margarita River flows right through Fallbrook but for about seven decades, we were involved in one of the longest-running federal lawsuits over water rights to the river.
Now with that lawsuit behind us, we share the river's water with Camp Pendleton. The water is purified at our water treatment plant on Alturas Road and then sent to Fallbrook taps.