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Mayor Jerry Sanders today proposed another increase in the city’s water rates and declared a stage one water emergency, which asks for voluntary conservation among city residents.

The 6.26-percent rate increase, the result of rising wholesale water costs, will likely be approved by San Diego City Council after it returns from recess in September and take effect in January. The Union-Tribune reported Sunday that this is one of two rate increases on the way, and that by 2009 water rates will be 40 percent higher than they were in early 2007.

Sanders also acknowledged that his “water conservation challenge” has failed. Through a series of press conferences and other events over the past year, Sanders has tried to get San Diego residents and businesses to cut their water usage by 10 percent. Today he said the city is only using 3 percent less this year than in a typical year.

“In fact, new trends suggest that we may be on our way to using more water this year,” Sanders said today at a news conference.

City Attorney Mike Aguirre, who held his own water emergency press conference Sunday, said Sanders continues to act too slowly and incrementally when it comes to the water crisis.

“They are now admitting that voluntary conservation hasn’t worked, and then asking for more voluntary conservation,” Aguirre said. “What he has done is declared an emergency, but taken no action.”

For months, Aguirre said, Sanders has sat on new water ordinance drafted by the City Attorney’s Office that would require more aggressive, mandatory conservation efforts.

Sanders spokesman Fred Sainz called Aguirre’s proposed ordinance “irresponsible,” saying the more drastic measures it calls for could hurt the economy.

“Mike wanted us to go to stage three months ago,” Sainz said. “The mayor thought, and continues to think, that was irresponsible.”

Aguirre said his ordinance simply forces a balance in water supply and demand.

DAVID WASHBURN

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