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City enters water war

Court papers denounce claims made in San Diego County utility's suit.

August 12, 2012|By Brittany Levine, brittany.levine@latimes.com

Glendale has entered the legal battle over wholesale water charges to San Diego County that could have major implications to local customers.

The San Diego County Water Authority is suing the Southern California Metropolitan Water District — the Southland's main water suppliers to member utilities, such as Glendale, Burbank and the foothills — over what it claims are illegal overcharges included in rates for 2013 and 2014.

If San Diego County is successful, the financial impact to Glendale and other Metropolitan member utilities could be significant, translating into higher rates for customers, officials say.

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For Glendale, the cost could be an additional $11 million for water over the next 20 years. For the Foothill Municipal Water District, which sells Metropolitan water to the Crescenta Valley Water District, the cost could be an extra $6 million over the same period.

“There's big repercussions if the lawsuit is lost,” said Glendale Councilwoman Laura Friedman, the city's representative on Metropolitan's board of directors. Glendale residents, she added, “should care because if San Diego wins, our rates will go up.”

Glendale this week filed court documents denouncing the San Diego County Water Authority's lawsuit, which claims Metropolitan has been inflating the fees it charges to transport water.

The San Diego utility's assistant general manager, Dennis Cushman, said the rates other agencies have been paying are “artificially lower today because they're overcharging on transportation.”

“The issue isn't about winners versus losers. The issue is about whether or not Metropolitan Water District rates are lawful and appropriately allocated,” Cushman said.

Metropolitan's rates have increased significantly over the past several years, putting pressure on Glendale Water & Power and other utilities to boost their own rates. Glendale, which gets about 70% of its water from Metropolitan, most recently raised rates in March.

The tensions stretch back to 2003 when Metropolitan “unbundled” rates, separating the cost of supply from transportation. While San Diego is one of the authority's largest customers, it purchases much of its water from an Imperial Valley agency, but pays Metropolitan to transport it.

The San Diego agency claims Metropolitan includes non-transportation-related charges in those rates, according to court documents. Metropolitan denies those claims.

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