LA WATCHDOG-Our water rates are going berserk.
Over the last year, water rates have shot up by about 25% to 30% because our Department of Water and Power has been forced to rely on more expensive purchased water from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California as our supply from the Owens Valley has been curtailed because of environmental regulations and a below average snow pack.
In addition to the pass through of the higher costs of purchased water from MWD, DWP is expected to request a multiyear base rate increase of 6% to 7% a year in January. Based on rough estimates, this bump will total at least $250 million over the next three to four years, adding another 20% to 25% to our bill.
These new revenues will be used to upgrade the Water System’s aging distribution system and to implement numerous water quality initiatives, including those related to open air reservoirs and the use of chlorine as a disinfectant.
However, there appear to be other projects that Ratepayers will be asked to finance through these higher rates.
DWP has embarked on a strategy to reduce its dependence on MWD and its supplies from the Bay Delta in Northern California, and, to a much lesser extent, the Colorado River. As part of this strategy, DWP is pursuing an aggressive strategy to recycle waste water at the Tillman Reclamation Plant to use in the replenishment of the groundwater in the San Fernando Basin and in its purple pipe program for the irrigation of large open spaces such as parks and golf courses.
At the same time, the Department is embarking on a plan to remediate the toxic groundwater supplies in the San Fernando Basin so that it will be suitable for everyday use in our homes.
These two ambitious initiatives are expected to cost over $1 billion. Yet, we have not seen any financial analysis that indicates that these two projects are economically viable.
City Hall also appears to be targeting Ratepayers’ wallets as a funding source for the Los Angeles River and its Stormwater / Urban Runoff program.
The remediation and revitalization of the 32 miles of the Los Angeles River that runs through the City is a worthwhile project that will cost the City more than $1 billion. But just because it involves water does not mean it is the Ratepayers responsibility to foot any portion of the bill. To date, DWP has done more than its fair share by “investing” at least $6 million to fund the Army Corps of Engineers study.
The City is also looking to tag Ratepayers with a significant portion of the cost its Water Integrated Resources Plan. This involves the capture, conservation, and reuse of our wastewater, stormwater, and recycled water, even though it is the responsibility of the Department of Public Works and its Bureau of Sanitation.
As part of any rate increase in our water rates, DWP needs to detail its plans and the associated costs and economics associated with recycled water, the replenishment of our aquifers, groundwater remediation, the LA River, and the stormwater/urban runoff program.
The Water System must also benchmark the efficiency of its operations (including Shared Services) and its salaries and benefits relative to other regional utilities so that Ratepayers know that their hard earned money is being used in a prudent manner.
DWP must also come clean on all City Hall’s pet projects, including, but certainly not limited to, the Silver Lake Reservoirs, Headworks (and its cost overruns), Griffith Park, Elysian Park, the bargain basement rates for Recreation and Parks, the Fire Department’s hydrants and standby fee, and the City’s water fountains.
While Ratepayers are not overjoyed with huge increases in their water bills, they are entitled to full and complete disclosure off all aspects of the Water Systems’ costs (including City Hall’s pet projects and other dirty little deals) and the opportunity to provide real input to the Department, the City Council, and the Ratepayer elected Mayor.
DWP management has been open and transparent in its dealings with the Ratepayers. Now City Hall must earn the trust and confidence of the Ratepayers and the voters. Otherwise, say goodbye to any tax increase that requires our approval.
(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee, The Ratepayer Advocate for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, and a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate. Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler Classifieds -- www.recycler.com. He can be reached at: email@example.com. Hear Jack every Tuesday morning at 6:20 on McIntyre in the Morning, KABC Radio 790.)
Vol 11 Issue 93
Pub: Nov 19, 2013