Typically, water utilities’ budgets are funded by revenue
collected through water and sewer rates. Revenue generated by
rates covers the costs of operations, as well as ongoing upgrades
and repairs to pipelines, treatment plants, sewers and other
State legislation also has affected the water rate-setting
process by requiring new processes for altering water rates, as
well as by requiring water conservation, which in turn decreases
the demand for water.
An effort by California officials to carry their success with
water conservation beyond the drought is not sitting well with
local water managers, many of whom are eager to shake off
state control. … The proposal was met with howls of
protest from many local water agency leaders, who say
budget-based water rates are too costly and complicated to
adopt. Some also object to state meddling in water rates,
historically the sole province of local water utilities.
During drought, people conserve water. That’s a good thing for
public water agencies and the state as a whole but the reduction
in use ultimately means less money flowing into the budgets of
those very agencies that need funds to treat water to drinkable
standards, maintain a distribution system, and build a more
“There are two things that can’t happen to a water utility – you
can’t run out of money and you can’t run out of water,” said Tom
Esqueda, public utilities director for the city of Fresno. He was
a panelist at a June 16 discussion in Sacramento about drought
resiliency sponsored by the Public Policy Institute of California
The East Bay Municipal Utility District is spending $120,000 to
resend all of its 385,000 account holders a notice of a
proposed 19 percent rate increase after discovering the first
mailing omitted 15,000 to 20,000 customers. … Under the
state’s voter-approved Proposition 218, public agencies must
mail out a notice of rate increases 45 days before adopting
Belying their reputation as conservative institutions that
resist change, large U.S. water utilities, in response to
slow-motion social and hydrological shifts that alter water
availability and use, are showing signs of creativity. The
inspiration is reflected in their rates, which continue a
relentless, but slowing, upward climb. … The challenge
for utilities today is threefold: earn enough revenue to repair
broken pipes, keep water affordable for the poor, and do so
while selling less of their product.
The California Courts of Appeal has 90 days to decide the fate
of a water rate dispute between a Los Angeles-based water
wholesaler and San Diego County water managers. At issue is the
cost of moving water through the Metropolitan Water District’s
In his 100-day action plan to “Make America Great Again,”
President Trump proposed privatization as the best strategy for
fixing the country’s infrastructure, including roads, bridges
and water systems. That’s already happened in Lake County’s
Lucerne and other small towns like it throughout California —
and it’s not working out very well for people like the Cruz
Last week, a judge ruled against the city of Glendale for
violating Proposition 218 in creating its current water
rate-pricing structure first adopted in 2014, in a lawsuit
brought by the Glendale Coalition for Better Government.
The Desert Water Agency Board of Directors unanimously approved
a significant rate hike Thursday, the first in a series of
five increases that — if all are eventually approved
— could result in an almost 80 percent increase to
customers’ bills over the next four years if all are passed.
In a case that could have statewide ramifications, a group
of multimillionaire Hillsborough residents, including an early
funder of Microsoft, has sued the town claiming that its
drought rules and penalties intended to keep people from
over-watering big lawns are illegal.
After examining water use data and water agencies’ urban water
plans, [Heather] Cooley and her colleagues found that while
water use stayed stagnant or declined in some areas, many
utilities were projecting increased water use in the future,
which shows they’re not allowing for efficiency improvements
and so they could be overestimating demand, which could
increase costs for rate payers for water they may not use.
An acrimonious fight over a water-rate increase in Orange
County will culminate Tuesday when voters decide whether to
recall two of their local water district’s board members and
whether to reelect a third.
Prompted by a 2015 state law, the State Water Resources Control
Board has begun designing a program to provide state aid to
individuals and families who need help paying their water
bills. Due to the Legislature by February 1, 2018, California
is determined to be the first to use state funds to subsidize
water service for poor residents, water rate experts say.
It wasn’t just generous spring rains filling north-state
reservoirs that had California’s urban water districts pushing
back so hard against mandatory water cuts this year. All those
brown lawns and shorter showers have cost them millions in
The latest skirmish in the water wars asks the cryptic
question: When is water not really water? The answer, it seems,
is when words in an 83-year-old law – a law conceived long
before the notion that recycled sewage was anything but
disgusting – essentially negate its existence.
Residents of El Porvenir, threatened with water shutoff in
August as their neighbors in Cantua Creek were last year, are
getting financial relief from the state. … In April, the
farmworker residents of the tiny western Fresno County town
rejected a higher water rate over five years that amounted to
about $5 a month the first year.
How much money does the water district have, and how much does
it really need? … Yorba Linda’s case is a high-stakes test of
the power of Proposition 218, which gave Californians the power
to repeal or reduce any local tax, assessment or fee.
This is the time of year when water utilities set their rates,
which almost inevitably go up. But this year, the rate hikes
are likely to be higher than usual, as water utilities cope
with the unexpected impact of mandatory conservation on their
In a move that even Clovis city officials agree is unlikely to
bolster water conservation efforts, the city is changing its
water rate structure so that residents using less will pay
more. New rates will go into effect July 1 if the City Council
approves them Monday night.
The cost of drinking water and sewer services in the United
States, rising on average at twice the rate of inflation, is
giving birth to a new civil rights movement, one based on
access to water and sanitation for the poor.
Citing potentially higher costs that would be passed on to
customers, Orange County’s largest provider of water to homes
and businesses is intensifying its opposition to a key
supplier’s plan to buy desalinated water from a proposed $1
billion Huntington Beach plant.
More than five years after the Monterey Peninsula Water
Management District was barred from collecting a user fee on
California American Water bills to pay for Carmel River
mitigation and other work, the California State Supreme Court
ruled the state Public Utilities Commission had no authority
over the fee.
The board that oversees the Los Angeles Department of Water and
Power on Tuesday approved the utility’s plan to increase water
rates about 4.7% each year over the next five years. …
Utility officials have said they need the approximately $330
million in additional revenue to repair aging water pipes and
A coalition of groups representing cities, counties and water
agencies filed a proposed ballot measure Monday that would
allow water providers to reestablish so-called tiered pricing
as a means of encouraging conservation.
In Great Oaks Water Company v. Santa Clara Valley Water
District, originally issued March 26, the Sixth District Court
of Appeal found that the water district’s groundwater pumping
fees are property-related fees subject to Proposition 218. …
The Great Oaks opinion, however, reached a different conclusion
than the Second District Court of Appeal reached in City of San
Buenaventura v. United Water Conservation District, issued
Four years into the worst drought in California’s recorded
history, the contrast between the strict enforcement on
Californians struggling to conserve and the unchecked
profligacy in places like Bel Air has unleashed anger and
indignation — among both the recipients of the fines, who feel
helpless to avoid them, and other Californians who see the
biggest water hogs getting off scot-free.
The drought is driving up water rates all over California as
utilities scramble to cover revenue losses and pay for
additional supplies. There will be no relief for low-income
residents, who are caught in a legal conundrum that prevents
most water agencies from discounting their rates.
Eighteen months ago, Marcie Edwards became the first woman to
lead the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the
country’s largest publicly-owned utility, and it wouldn’t have
happened without a stint as a “pit critter.”
The Marin Municipal Water District has set a public hearing as
it looks to raise rates to deal with reduced water consumption,
the drought and land management responsibilities. It is also
looking at establishing a “drought surcharge” option.
At a nearly four-hour public hearing attended by more than 150
customers at the [Helix Water] district’s University Avenue
headquarters, the board approved charging more to its nearly
270,000 customers through 2019-20.
We interviewed Ken Baerenklau, a UC Riverside economist and
adjunct fellow with the PPIC Water Policy Center, on the role
of pricing to mitigate scarcity during droughts, and the need
for fair and economically sensible prices.
Water agencies save some costs when they deliver less water;
for example, they need fewer chemicals to treat water and need
to buy less water itself. But the majority of other costs are
fixed, including running treatment plants, paying off
infrastructure and paying workers’ salaries.
It was hailed as a modern makeover of an aging, inefficient way
to bill customers. Instead, the new system at the Los Angeles
Department of Water and Power became a nightmare, spewing out
thousands of faulty bills, some wildly inflated.
In a setback to California water regulators’ conservation
efforts, the state Supreme Court has kept intact a ruling that
makes it harder for municipalities to impose tiered pricing to
discourage heavy water use.
Rejecting the pleas of California officials worried about water
conservation, the state Supreme Court on Wednesday left intact
a lower court ruling that makes it tougher for cities and water
districts to impose punishing higher rates on water wasters.
San Francisco County Superior Court Judge Curtis E.A. Karnow
found that the MWD had charged San Diego too much for the use
of its aqueduct to bring water from the Colorado River under
San Diego’s deal to buy water from the Imperial Irrigation
Since it was created more than 100 years ago, the Department of
Water and Power has been a titan of Los Angeles, controlling
not just the city’s access to vital resources but billions of
dollars in revenue that has helped gain influence at City Hall.
Los Angeles Department of Water and Power officials are seeking
an increase in rates over the next five years in a bid to boost
water conservation amid California’s drought and expand repairs
of crumbling water mains and electricity infrastructure.
California Gov. Jerry Brown called for an overhaul in water
pricing as part of his sweeping drought order, and regulators
on Wednesday will discuss how to best do that in light of legal
questions over rates designed to encourage conservation.
It was not the sort of tremor that Californians prepare for
with flashlights, evacuation plans, and Hollywood scripts. But
a state appeals court ruling on April 20 hit the state’s water
utilities with earth-shaking force.
The California attorney general’s office has asked the state
Supreme Court to depublish a controversial ruling that it
argues will impede the state’s ability to encourage
conservation by charging people higher rates when they use
excessive amounts of water.
As East Bay water officials on Tuesday were about to increase
rates and impose the toughest penalties yet against water
wasters, Raven Brown had one concern. She’s held off from
bathing her dog, which has fleas, for fear her water bill would
go up and she might be fined.
East Bay residents will see an average 24 percent hike in their
water bills, starting next month, after the East Bay Municipal
Utility District on Tuesday approved a bump in rates, largely
to make up for revenue lost during the drought.
The homeowner and securities specialist paid huge water bills
under the steep tiers recently declared illegal by the 4th
District Court of Appeal, and he recently filed a claim in
Orange County Superior Court to try to recoup the thousands he
once thought were gone for good.
Facing a lawsuit from cities over its pumping rates, the Water
Replenishment District of Southern California called in the big
guns. … Two weeks ago, the WRD settled the case, agreeing to
pay the cities that sued it $9.1 million.
It started with a few ticked-off residents of the Orange County
town of San Juan Capistrano. The city was charging them too
much for water, they argued, in violation of the California
Constitution, courtesy of Proposition 218, a taxpayer-revolt
law passed in 1996.
The court held that since Proposition 218 prohibits charging
more for a service than it costs to provide, the policy of
charging higher rates to users of more water was
unconstitutional. … But a careful reading offers an opening
to continue conservation incentives if agencies carefully
Gov. Jerry Brown is sticking to his statewide mandatory water
conservation targets, his administration said Tuesday, even as
a new appeals court ruling limits the ability of cities and
water districts to hit people with punishing rates to encourage
them to save water.
In a ruling that Gov. Jerry Brown says puts a “straitjacket” on
local governments trying to fight the severe statewide drought,
an appeals court has found that an Orange County city’s tiered
water rates are unconstitutional. … It comes shortly after
Brown issued drought orders that call for rates that encourage
people to save water, including tiered pricing.
An appellate court Monday struck down a Southern California
city’s method of charging water users based on a tiered-rate
system, a potential setback to municipalities across a parched
state laboring to curtail water consumption under Gov. Jerry
Brown’s recent order.
Water departments across California, including dozens in the
Bay Area, are now looking to raise rates — in many cases by
double digits — to shore up revenues as customers use less
water during dry times and water sales plummet.
One Holds that the Fee is Subject to Prop. 26 and Another
that it is a Property-Related Fee Subject to Prop. 218 —
Two California Appellate Court decisions handed down this month
address whether or not a local water agency’s groundwater
pumping charges are property-related fees, and reach different
conclusions. The distinction is important because of the
restrictions imposed for property-related fees under
Proposition 218 — as well as the exemptions for fees that are
considered taxes under Proposition 26.
A state audit released last week details how Los Angeles
Department of Water and Power managers ignored and downplayed
repeated warnings that a new customer billing system — the
lifeline of the utility and how it collects its revenue — was
not ready and would not work as promised.
Is your house built to use water efficiently? … The
non-profit organization known as RESNET – the Residential
Energy Services Network – has just announced its intention to
create an easy to understand numeric rating system for the
water efficiency of homes this year. RESNET has already
developed the highly successful Home Energy Rating System
(HERS) for assigning a score to the energy efficiency of homes
Facing a public outcry and some skepticism from their board of
directors, the top staff of the Silicon Valley’s largest
drinking water provider on Tuesday suggested reducing a
proposed drought-related water rate hike this year from 31
percent to 19 percent.
Residents of this tiny western Fresno County town recently told
Fresno County supervisors that they don’t want to pay higher
bills for water service to their tiny community — even if it
means having their water shut off. If they don’t agree to pay
more, Cantua Creek residents will stop getting water as early
During the first three years of drought, Bay Area residents
have endured brown lawns, shorter showers and dirty cars. Now,
as the crisis stretches into the fourth year, they are about to
feel it in their wallets.
The typical Los Angeles Department of Water and Power
residential customer will see a $2.61 monthly billing increase
by July, as this winter’s low snow-pack means the agency has to
buy more expensive imported water.
A Southern California city has launched eminent domain
proceedings to take over the private water agency that has
served the community for more than 80 years – an unusual move,
even in California, where fights over water are common.
The Fresno City Council approved Mayor Ashley Swearengin’s
historic water project Thursday night, assuring a secure supply
of the liquid gold well into the 21st century. The 6-1 vote was
actually for a five-year rate plan.
The Department of Motor Vehicles may be the state agency that
Californians love to hate – undeservedly, for the most part.
However, for sheer cussedness and arrogance, the Los Angeles
Department of Water and Power is in a class by itself.
Last week, an 89-year-old pipe burst in the Hollywood Hills,
releasing at least 100,000 gallons of water that flooded the
streets, cracked sidewalks and submerged cars. … Also last
week, city officials were scrambling to save an agreement
between the city and the politically powerful leader of the DWP
A long-awaited examination of how two controversial Los Angeles
Department of Water and Power nonprofit trusts spent millions
of ratepayer dollars stalled over a concern that auditors were
taking too many notes, according to City Hall sources.
An audit heralded last year by L.A. city leaders as a
breakthrough in efforts to determine what two controversial
Department of Water and Power nonprofit trusts did with tens of
millions of ratepayer dollars has ground to a halt, The Times
Mayor Ashley Swearengin has on tap a $1 million program to help
low-income Fresnans pay their water bills. Whether that is
enough to turn her proposed upgrade to Fresno’s water system
into reality figures to be City Hall’s hottest political
question this month.
A proposal to change water rates for farmers would have some
paying more money and some less, but would not bring more
revenue to the Modesto Irrigation District or affect the
massive subsidy borne by its electricity customers.
Several agricultural water suppliers seeking reimbursement for
state-mandated activities under the Water Conservation Act of
2009 are ineligible to receive state funding, the Commission on
State Mandates has decided. The decision, released in early
December, states that the suppliers are ineligible because they
have the option to recover costs through the Proposition 218
Thanks to December’s downpour, 1.3 million East Bay residents
expecting to see a 14 percent hike in their water bill this
month are getting a break — for now. The East Bay Municipal
Utility District has postponed its emergency plan to pump
Sacramento River water to local reservoirs as insurance against
a prolonged drought.
Electricity customers of the Turlock Irrigation District will
get a rate increase averaging 2 percent as of Jan. 1, following
a 5-0 vote by its board Tuesday morning. … TID also has
proposed a far larger increase – more than double – in farm
Despite early December rains, the East Bay Municipal Utility
District board voted unanimously Tuesday to augment its Sierra
reservoirs with water purchases from the Central Valley Water
Project and to pass on the cost to customers, if need be.
As the city [Claremont] begins its effort to acquire a water
system from Golden State Water Company one question looms: at
what cost? … On Nov. 4, voters overwhelmingly backed a bond
measure that allows the city to borrow up to $135 million to
acquire the system, which serves more than 11,000 customers.
Poor management and an unprepared work force hampered the
rollout of a new billing system by the Los
Angeles Department of Water and Power, a new report says,
resulting in thousands of incorrect billings and customer
telephone hold times of up to two hours.
After more than a year of bitter legal battles, Los Angeles
city leaders have approved a deal with the powerful Department
of Water and Power union that promises the first detailed,
public look at how two controversial nonprofits affiliated with
the utility spent tens of millions of ratepayer dollars.
Investors looking for promising growth markets would do well to
consider their water bill. “While the water sector offers many
opportunities to innovate and deploy new technologies, in
practice the sector has barely tapped the potential those
technologies offer,” conclude the authors of a new Stanford-led
report, “The Path to Water Innovation,” which recommends
spurring innovation by revising pricing policies, regulatory
frameworks and financing.
With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Measure W passed with
a commanding lead of 6,116 votes in favor and 2,452 votes
opposed to the initiative which taxpayers hope will reduce
water rates. Residents headed to the polls to decide the fate
of the highly contentious Measure W, which would allow
Claremont to borrow up to $135 million in revenue bonds to
finance the acquisition of the local water system owned and
operated by Golden State Water Co.
A month of water debate has delivered an unsurprising message
to Fresno City Hall — given their druthers, people prefer stuff
to be free. But the 150 people who gathered at Gaston Middle
School in southwest Fresno on Monday for the third of four
water forums got an equally unsurprising reply: Water is the
stuff of life, and it’s going to cost you.
The signs appear about 200 miles north of Los Angeles, tacked
onto old farm wagons parked along quiet two-lane roads and
bustling Interstate 5. “Congress Created Dust Bowl.” “Stop the
Politicians’ Water Crisis.” “No Water No Jobs.”
Drought is rampant these days in many parts of
the American West, so consider this a pretty sweet gift:
You’ve just been given the rights to some water. … Your
job is to turn around and use that resource in the most
valuable way possible.
In an attempt to reduce water use during California’s severe
drought, Sonoma’s City Council will consider raising water
rates next month and imposing a new tiered-pricing system that
puts the financial squeeze on the city’s heaviest water users.
This summer, California’s water authority declared that wasting
water — hosing a sidewalk, for example — was a crime. Next
door, in Nevada, Las Vegas has paid out $200 million over the
last decade for homes and businesses to pull out their lawns.
One of the most extreme droughts in California’s history has
been hitting agriculture hard, forcing cutbacks in water
deliveries in parts of the Central Valley and leaving more than
400,000 acres of farmland fallow and dry.
If the severe drought gripping California continues much
longer, there’s a good chance that many of the Golden State’s
residences will be assigned a daily allocation of water and
then charged extra for exceeding that amount.
This printed issue of Western Water examines the
financing of water infrastructure, both at the local level and
from the statewide perspective, and some of the factors that
influence how people receive their water, the price they pay for
it and how much they might have to pay in the future.
This printed issue of Western Water looks at some of
the pieces of the 2009 water legislation, including the Delta
Stewardship Council, the new requirements for groundwater
monitoring and the proposed water bond.
This printed issue of Western Water examines the
changed nature of the California Water Plan, some aspects of the
2009 update (including the recommendation for a water finance
plan) and the reaction by certain stakeholders.
This printed copy of Western Water examines the challenges facing
small water systems, including drought preparedness, limited
operating expenses and the hurdles of complying with costlier
regulations. Much of the article is based on presentations at the
November 2007 Small Systems Conference sponsored by the Water
Education Foundation and the California Department of Water
This printed issue of Western Water features a
roundtable discussion with Anthony Saracino, a water resources
consultant; Martha Davis, executive manager of policy development
with the Inland Empire Utilities Agency and senior policy advisor
to the Delta Stewardship Council; Stuart Leavenworth, editorial
page editor of The Sacramento Bee and Ellen Hanak, co-director of
research and senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of
Many Californians don’t realize that when they turn on the
faucet, the water that flows out could come from a source close
to home or one hundreds of miles away. Most people take their
water for granted; not thinking about the elaborate systems and
testing that go into delivering clean, plentiful water to
households throughout the state. Where drinking water comes from,
how it’s treated, and what people can do to protect its quality
are highlighted in this 2007 PBS documentary narrated by actress
A 30-minute version of the 2007 PBS documentary Drinking Water:
Quenching the Public Thirst. This DVD is ideal for showing at
community forums and speaking engagements to help the public
understand the complex issues surrounding the elaborate systems
and testing that go into delivering clean, plentiful water to
households throughout the state.
It’s no secret that providing water in a state with the size and
climate of California costs money. The gamut of water-related
infrastructure – from reservoirs like Lake Oroville to the pumps
and pipes that deliver water to homes, businesses and farms –
incurs initial and ongoing expenses. Throw in a new spate of
possible mega-projects, such as those designed to rescue the
ailing Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, and the dollar amount grows
exponentially to billion-dollar amounts that rival the entire
gross national product of a small country.