Ventura’s model education and outreach program set a new standard for communicating with ratepayers, delivering unanimous approval for rate increases and enhanced community support for proactive water and wastewater investments.
In Ventura, California, a major milestone was reached in the pursuit of a more sustainable and secure water future: unanimous City Council approval and public support for increases to water and wastewater rates that will make possible 35 capital improvement projects, including two major water supply initiatives, the State Water Interconnection Project and the VenturaWaterPure Potable Reuse Program.
Like other utilities across the United States, Ventura Water is facing unprecedented challenges-water supply insecurity due to drought and changing climate conditions, aging infrastructure, needed water quality improvements, and increased legal and environmental regulations.
“For many years, our local water sources have been impacted by drought, regulatory, and legal constraints,” shared Ventura Water General Manager Susan Rungren. “Now is the time to continue to invest in our aging infrastructure and projects that will help meet regulatory requirements, help secure sustainable water supply for existing and future customers, and improve our water quality.”
This level of investment requires increases to water and wastewater rates—and support among the Ventura public and community officials. An extensive water and wastewater rate study showed that an annual rate increase of seven percent for water service and six percent for wastewater service would be needed each year for the next five years to continue to operate and maintain Ventura’s systems and invest in forward-looking projects.
“These are difficult decisions that will impact our community for years to come. After careful consideration, City Council recognizes that we can no longer defer investing in water and wastewater systems,” commented Ventura Mayor Rubalcava. “As leaders, it is our responsibility to ensure our existing residents and future generations have access to safe, clean, and reliable water.”
Ventura Water and WSC partnered to lead a year-long educational and outreach campaign leading up to the public protest period in April 2021 and City Council’s decision in May 2021. Ventura Water conducted over 20 community presentations and hosted several virtual town hall meetings where information about anticipated rate impacts was shared with community members, neighborhood groups, clubs, businesses, and economic development stakeholders. A virtual engagement website invited the community to share their values related to water priorities, educated ratepayers about the benefits of investing now, and explained in clear terms the rate changes to expect and why. Materials including bill inserts, 20 news articles and newsletters, more than 30 social media posts, frequently asked questions, and 4 videos shared information with the Ventura community in a transparent and accessible way.
“City staff and the Water Commission made a concerted effort to lead a collaborative and transparent rate-setting process, with the continued goal to communicate early and often,” stated Assistant City Manager Akbar Alikhan.
Outreach efforts paid off: minimal public protests, resounding approval for the rate increases from Ventura’s City Council, and enhanced community understanding about the importance of proactive investments in Ventura’s water future.