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Tropico Perspective: Water upgrades are worth the cost

January 28, 2012|By Michael Teahan

We all know that the economic recovery for Glendale, like all of California, isn’t progressing as quickly as we would like, and money is in short supply, but the proposal by Glendale Water & Power to adjust water rates is both timely and necessary.

More importantly for the City Council’s consideration, it’s also remarkably fair.

My first exposure to the aging water infrastructure came from Adams Hill residents whose homes were built on lots divided in the 1950s without direct access to water mains. The infrastructure is inadequate to serve the community, with so few hydrants that a devastating fire is a real possibility, and existing water mains need to be relined, having reached the end of their service life.

Nearly a quarter-million feet of water pipe in Glendale needs to be replaced or relined, and the utility does not have the reserves or rate structure to support needed improvements.

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Residents have good reason to be skeptical when millions of dollars that could have been allocated for infrastructure support were transferred over the years to the Glendale General Fund, which pays for many public services. But with Proposition 218 in place, the City Council can no longer use the utility as an ATM, and the money needed to keep the water running stays with the utility.

I suppose we could sue to get all the money back. But I suspect that dozens of pipes will have burst before a penny shows up, and it would be paid for by taking cops off the beat and closing a few more libraries. It might not be a good trade.

It is also reasonable to question the $4-million premium the Glendale Water & Power spent upgrading aging water meters to smart meters, but for a city the size of Glendale, it wasn’t a bad long-term investment.

Considering that it already identified 7,000 homes with leaking water pipes and is able to track water leaks on unmetered lines, the system has great potential to pay for itself in conservation alone.

While the necessity of the improvements is evident, the remaining issues before council should be whether the increases sought are reasonable and fair.

While Burbank enjoys slightly lower rates than Glendale, they have a large industrial base with a smaller residential customer base. They also have seen successive 5% annual increases and a single 13.5% increase this year, while Glendale has remained flat for most of the last decade. Even with the proposed Glendale Water & Power rate increases, Burbank is quickly gaining ground.

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