The projected composition of Santa Monica's water supply in 2023. (City of Santa Monica)

The Santa Monica City Council approved a water self-sufficiency plan Tuesday that will double the price of water and wastewater removal by 2024.

The rate increases will finance about $42 million in infrastructure projects that will allow Santa Monica to stop importing water from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California by 2023. Officials said relying on local groundwater and recycled water will shield residents from the impacts of climate change, such as higher rate hikes and water rationing, that Metropolitan Water District customers may bear throughout the next decade and beyond.

The utility plans to build an $11 billion tunnel to continue importing water from Northern California, which local officials said will be reflected in customers’ bills. Its other main source of water, the Colorado River, is in its 20th year of drought and is projected to continue suffering from the effects of climate change.

“Local Santa Monica water will be even more dependable and more affordable in the long run,” Mayor Kevin McKeown said in a statement. “Our long-term investment in local water sources and infrastructure will save Santa Monicans money when distant water imported through quake-vulnerable aqueducts and pumped over mountain ranges becomes ever more expensive.”

The rate structure also reflects the rising construction costs associated with regular maintenance, said Sunny Wang, the city’s water resources manager.

In five years, the typical homeowner will pay $60 more per month for water under the rate structure City Council approved, in which water rates will rise 20% Mar. 1, 18% next year and 14% annually for the following three years. Wastewater rates will increase 10% annually for the first four years and 3% in the fifth year.

A drought rate structure will be established in case of a statewide emergency and residents who participate in the low-income assistance program will continue to receive subsidies to match the new water rate tier structure, officials said.

Currently, single-family households pay an average of $55 per month for just water, while equivalent customers in Beverly Hills, Culver City and Los Angeles pay between $60 and $90.

The typical Santa Monica homeowner will pay $115 by 2024 under the proposed rate structure, but Wang said neighboring cities will also have to raise rates to accommodate their own water self-sufficiency projects or the capital projects that the Metropolitan Water District is expected to undertake.

The plan sparked opposition from many of the city’s neighborhood organizations, who said they were not adequately informed of the forthcoming rate hikes and expressed doubts that the funds would allow the city to stop importing water by 2023, given that the city previously raised rates in 2015 to try to meet its former goal of water self-sufficiency by 2020.

“Most residents aren’t satisfied with this plan,” the board of the North of Montana Association wrote in a letter to the council. “We urge the City Council to reject the current proposed rate adjustments as too high, too precipitous. Instead, (the council) should adopt a water self‐sufficiency goal and rate structure that are both fair and reasonable and in which residents have confidence.”

Officials said Proposition 218 notices were mailed to all ratepayers, who had until Tuesday night to formally protest the rates. 625 protests were submitted, but Proposition 218 requires a threshold of 11,767 protests to keep rates from going up.

Councilmembers maintained that the plan will save ratepayers money in the long term as Metropolitan Water District water becomes more expensive.

“While we may be asking ratepayers to take the hit now — and it’s unfortunate … nobody likes to raise rates — but in the long term, we won’t only ensure a reliable and resilient source of water,” said Councilmember Ted Winterer. “It (will) be cheaper when we wean ourselves off of that imported water, so it’s as much about fiscal stewardship as it is about sustainability.”

madeleine@smdp.com