Alex Ruiz, assistant director of the city of San Diego’s Water Department spoke on a panel this morning with Darryl Miller, a retired board member from the Irvine Ranch Water District in Orange County.

Earlier this year, as the city was drawing up plans to cut citywide water use, Ruiz had misrepresented Irvine Ranch’s approach to reducing water consumption. Facing water supply cuts in the early 1990s, the district set ceilings for household consumption based on lot sizes. Those with more landscaping are allotted more water. And anyone who uses more than they were allotted pays higher rates — as much as eight times the standard rate. The plan took a year to implement; Ruiz said it had taken eight to 12 years.

There weren’t any fireworks during the morning discussion. Miller said Irvine Ranch’s rate structure has helped cut water consumption 20 percent since 1991 without requiring lawn-watering rules like those San Diego is now implementing.

“We haven’t had any rules, any regulations or telling people when to water,” he said. “The response has been fantastic. You increase perception about the value of water. They feel like part of a team.”

The city is studying tiered rates, where customers pay more the more they use. Ruiz said the city is evaluating whether to add tiers for irrigation customers, as well as businesses, which currently pay the same rate no matter how much they use.

San Diego currently has tiered rates for residential customers, though they aren’t as steep as Irvine Ranch’s, where the most wasteful customers pay eight times more if they grossly exceed their allotment.

Miller said rate structures that aren’t steeply tiered offer little financial incentive for consumers to conserve. “Not all tiered rates are the same,” he said. “If you have a small tier, you don’t pay attention to it. You have to crank up the tiers.”

The morning’s event was sponsored by Citizens Coordinate for Century 3.

ROB DAVIS

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