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Water board is urged to reject rate increase

District officials propose hike to deal with higher expenses. La Crescenta residents say customers shouldn't have to shoulder the burden.

October 21, 2010|By Melanie Hicken, melanie.hicken@latimes.com

LA CRESCENTA — Several dozen residents spoke out this week against a proposed water rate increase for the Crescenta Valley Water District, which already has among the highest rates in the region.

District officials say they are proposing the rate increase as a way to pass on the higher cost of imported water, to recoup lost revenues stemming from increased conservation and to cover the rising costs for maintenance and operations.

The Crescenta Valley imports about a third of its water from the Foothill Municipal Water District, which in turn relies on imports from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. Officials there approved a 15% rate increase over the next two years, added on to a 20% increase approved last year.

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But at a public hearing on Tuesday, residents pleaded with the Crescenta Valley Water District Board of Directors to vote against the rate proposal.

The board will discuss the proposal at a Nov. 2 meeting before a vote on Nov. 17.

"Many of us object to your proposed rate increase as just another in an endless cycle of economic pain inflicted on water customers who have more than done our part to conserve under the constraints of mandatory rationing," said resident Greg Wilkinson.

The Glendale City Council is expected to approve a similar water rate increase next week despite similar pleas from local residents.

Wilkinson and others at the meeting questioned whether district officials had done enough cost-cutting before turning to ratepayers.

"All utilities, all government should also live within their budget," said resident Marti Marshall. "If not, they should cut."

Under the proposed rate increase, customers using 10,000 gallons or less per bimonthly billing cycle would see no change in their water rate. Average customers using 22,000 gallons would experience an increase of about $9.32 per bill, while those using 51,000 gallons or more could see increases upwards of $40 per bill.

Even the district's most strict conservationists would see an at least $5-increase on each bill through a service charge hike that would be levied across the board.

The threshold for the top tier would also be lowered by 10,000 gallons to 51,000, meaning customers who have cut back could again find themselves in the top users category.

District General Manager Dennis Erdman acknowledged complaints from customers who said they felt penalized for adhering to the strict conservation measures.

"That's a tough message for you to here. That's a tough message for us to deliver," he said. "But the reality is part of the reason we are asking for a rate increase is our revenues were down last year."

The utility has also experienced additional costs stemming from about $350,000 worth of damage during the Station fire and ensuing debris flows. Continued efforts to remove the contaminant Methyl tertiary-butyl ether, or MTBE, from the water supply have also taken their toll.

First detected at elevated levels in a Crescenta Valley Well in 2006, MTBE is believed to have entered the water supply from leaking underground gasoline storage tanks.

In the past three years, the district has incurred about $3 million in costs associated with the MTBE issue. District officials are currently suing past tank owners to recover money spent on the clean up.

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