There are many factors involved in establishing water and wastewater rates, including the current costs of water and energy from our suppliers. Energy costs are significant in SMWD’s service area because of the hilly terrain. The hills make it necessary to pump water up to the communities we serve and then to pump it again to reach wastewater treatment (sewage) facilities.
The SMWD Board of Directors establishes water rates, fees and charges. The Board reviews rates and fees annually (and more frequently if warranted) to ensure the District continues to operate cost-effectively while delivering a safe, reliable water supply to your tap. The review also ensures compliance with stringent wastewater treatment and disposal regulations, and re-use of recycled water for irrigation.
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100% of the drinking (potable) water in the Santa Margarita Water District service area is imported from hundred of miles away. It is purchased from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD). The water comes from two sources: the Colorado River Aqueduct, which brings water from the Colorado River to Lake Mathews in Riverside County, and the State Water Project, which is the largest aqueduct system in the world and brings water from Bay-Delta in Northern California. The District is dedicated to developing local, reliable drinking water supplies.
The District's Water Conservation "rules" and Shortage Stages are described in detail here. A summary of the District's year-round water conservation BMPs and the Shortage Stages are provided below.
PERMANENT WATER CONSERVATION BEST MANAGEMENT PRACTICES
The District's Best Management Practices (BMPs) are in effect at all times and are permanent. The following is a summarized list (full text of Ordinance 2021-05-05). These water waste prohibitions are meant to conserve the District's water supplies:
WATER SHORTAGE STAGES
The following are the stages of water shortage which may be declared by the District's Board of Directors to respond to a water shortage condition. Click each Stage on the left for a summary of the water shortage response actions that may be implemented.
The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) is a consortium of 26 cities and Water Districts that provides drinking water to nearly 18 million people in parts of Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties. MWD currently delivers an average of 1.7 billion gallons of water per day to a 5,200 square-mile service area. View more information about MWD.
SMWD’s largest operating cost – about one-third of the budget – is purchasing imported drinking water. As of 2022, SMWD pays $1,143 per acre-foot of drinking water (326,000 gallons) supplied by MWD. Unfortunately, SMWD has no direct control over MWD’s rates – which are based on statewide water availability and energy costs.
SMWD charges fixed and volumetric charges to all customers. For additional information as of January 1, 2022, view rates for residential and commercial customers.
To encourage conservation and cover the higher cost of buying water from MWD at a higher rate, a tiered rate system for actual units (ccf) used is in place for water usage. This system imposes higher rates on customers who use larger amounts of water. One unit (ccf) equals 748 gallons. The per-unit cost charge covers the water delivery cost. It also covers the cost of treating the water to ensure that it's safe to drink, as well as energy costs for pumping the water to customers.
The first step to reduce water costs is reducing water use, particularly for irrigation (which is typically 60-70% of water use). Customers can lower their bills by implementing conservation techniques and fixing any household leaks. If you suspect a leak or feel that your water bill is extremely high, request an audit. A District representative will visit your home and conduct a thorough review of your water meter, water pressure and irrigation habits. The District will then provide recommendations for conserving water and reducing your monthly bill. For more information on cost savings, learn about our Water Efficiency Program, where you can find new ways to save water and money.
Customers pay a power surcharge if they live in an elevated area that requires water to be pumped to their location. The surcharge passes-through the cost the District pays for electricity to pump the water. The surcharge rate is determined by the pumping zone. There are nine pumping zones in the District that are assessed a surcharge. The current surcharge rate can range from $0.26 per ccf to $0.51 per ccf. The rate applies to domestic and non-domestic water.
SMWD does not charge customers based on income status. However, the District’s rates are designed to ensure that essential indoor drinking water is provided at the lowest cost to all customers, known as “Tier 1” pricing. A single-family residence customer falls under this category when water usage is 0 to 9 ccf (1 ccf = 748 gallons) within one billing cycle. A multi-family residence customer (condominium or apartment) falls under this "first tier" when usage is 0 to 7 ccf within one month's usage. View SMWD's water and sewer rates.
To fund water and sanitation infrastructure for our eight improvement districts, SMWD has issued General Obligation Bonds (with the exception of Talega, which issued Community Facility District bonds to finance the infrastructure). General Obligation Bonds are paid for by the area directly benefitting from the facilities and payments (principal and interest) to the bondholders are collected through the County of Orange Treasurer-Tax Collector's office via property tax bills. SMWD develops the annual tax rates to repay the bonds based on the Treasurer-Tax Collector's assessed value of the land. Property owners may see variances in the tax rates for these Improvement Districts when assessed property values increase or decrease.
SMWD is committed to developing local, reliable drinking water supplies. The District constantly evaluates its water portfolio and potential water supply projects, including the San Juan Watershed Project which has the capacity to provide 5.6 billion gallons of local, reliable water to South Orange County residents - enough water for 50,000 families each year.
SMWD is also a leader in using recycled water for landscape irrigation and has been successful in obtaining water from additional sources in the local area to supplement supply. The District uses recycled water for irrigation of slopes, parks, golf courses, schools and medians within its service area. Water is recycled at SMWD's three treatment plants, producing over 2 billion gallons of recycled water each year for landscape irrigation to homeowner associations and other municipalities within the District. In addition, SMWD collects urban return (runoff) water from Oso Creek, Dove Creek, and Horno Creek to blend with the recycled water as an additional source for irrigation. The use of recycled water and urban return flows from the creeks offset the need to import drinking water from MWD for irrigation.
Gray water includes wastewater from showers, bathtubs, bathroom sinks, laundry tubs and washing machines, but not from toilets, kitchen sinks or dishwashers. The latter sources typically have high bacterial content, making them unsuitable for irrigation. Gray water comprises 50 - 80% of residential wastewater. California regulators have recently loosened the requirements for using gray water for certain irrigation purposes by issuing an emergency decision that allows residents to create simple water-reuse systems without a construction permit. View more information about California's new standards for gray-water systems (PDF).
The Rules and Regulations for Water, Recycled Water and Wastewater Service of the Santa Margarita Water District include the criteria by which water, recycled water and wastewater service is provided to customers in the SMWD service area. Section 6 of the Rules and Regulations deal specifically with Billing Procedures, Regulations, Rates and Charges. View SMWD's Rules and Regulations (PDF).