Water Authority Finds Grand Jury’s Water Rates Report Is ‘Right on the Money’

Short Title
Grand Jury’s Water Rates Report Is ‘Right on the Money'
Recommended actions to develop new local supplies, seek equitable representation at MWD, and improve public outreach are already under way

The San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors today largely concurred with the key findings contained in a recent San Diego County Grand Jury report on water rates.  The Board determined the agency has implemented or is implementing the report’s recommended actions for developing new local water supplies, pushing for fair representation at the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and improving public outreach.

“The Grand Jury’s report overall is right on the money,” said Water Authority Board Chair Michael T. Hogan, who signed the official response approved by the Board.  “The report shows strong understanding of the water policy, water rates and water supply challenges we face, and it recommends prudent actions to address these challenges.”

The May 31 Grand Jury report, “San Diego County Water Rates:  High Today, Higher Tomorrow,” determined that the region’s water rates are likely to continue to rise, that underrepresentation on the Board at MWD (the Water Authority’s largest imported water supplier) harms the interests of the region’s ratepayers, and the region's water agencies have not clearly communicated why water rates are rising.

To address these issues, the Grand Jury recommended several measures:

  • Increasing investments in new local water supplies, such as desalination and recycling, to help guard against rising imported water costs
  • Aggressively exploring and advocating for fair representation on the MWD board
  • Evaluating and implementing improved communication efforts, including digital and social media, to help educate the public on important issues related to water reliability and rates
  • Considering economic rewards for customers who conserve water

Several of the recommendations, such as investing in local supply technologies and exploring economic rewards for conservation, have been under way by the Water Authority and its member agencies for many years and are continuing in a manner that’s cost-effective for ratepayers, Hogan said.

Supply diversification efforts already have helped reduce the region’s dependence on MWD supplies from 95 percent in 1991 to 47 percent in 2011; by 2020, supplies from MWD are projected to account for only 30 percent of the region’s water supply.  The Water Authority is exploring the potential to purchase water from the Carlsbad Desalination Project and studying the feasibility of other seawater desalination projects.  Several local retail agencies also are evaluating or planning projects that could add advanced treated recycled water or desalinated seawater to the region’s water supply.

The Water Authority and its member agencies have offered economic rewards for conservation in the form of rebates on water-efficient devices since the early 1990s. Although financial incentives were needed in the past to encourage conservation at the retail level, that is generally no longer the case.  Today water consumers are motivated to conserve water because water has become more expensive.

Many retail water agencies and cities have inclining block rates that charge less for lower levels of water use.

The Water Authority has aggressively explored and advocated for fair representation on the MWD board and continues to do so. To change the structure of representation on the MWD board requires state legislation. The Water Authority has an active legislative advocacy program in Sacramento and Washington and will continue to pursue opportunities to amend the MWD Act to provide fair and equitable representation for the Water Authority and all MWD member agencies.

In addition, the Water Authority sued MWD in June 2010, to fight what the Water Authority believes are illegal overcharges in MWD’s rate structure that cost San Diego ratepayers tens of millions of dollars annually. 

The Water Authority also has recently launched or is developing several new outreach initiatives to improve public understanding of water issues, including a community forum program and social media tools.

The Water Authority also offered clarifications on two of the report’s findings related to water rates.

  • First, the Water Authority pointed out the increasing cost of water and transportation service from MWD today remains the largest driver of rate increases in San Diego County.  It also stated that the need to develop new local supplies, and thus incur those costs, is not being driven principally by the needs of growing population or development.  Instead, it is driven by uncertainties surrounding the future availability of imported water from MWD.
  • Second, effectively communicating information about water rates is often difficult to do quickly and easily.  Obstacles include the inherent complexity of region’s water supply and rate-related issues, constantly changing hydrological conditions that affect supplies and rates, and varying rates among the region's local retail agencies.  Nevertheless, the Water Authority acknowledged the need for clear communications is increasing and that it is working to enhance its outreach efforts.

A copy of the Water Authority’s response to the Grand Jury report is available at http://www.sdcwa.org/sites/default/files/files/news-center/grandjury-response-attachments.pdf.