Wa­ter bills could triple un­der plan

L.A. County drought pro­posal draws scorn from res­i­dents fac­ing higher rates or a big cut in con­sump­tion.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Abby Sewell

An­drew Chadd was star­tled when he opened the no­tice from the Los An­ge­les County agency that sup­plies wa­ter to his neigh­bor­hood in the un­in­cor­po­rated com­mu­nity of Lit­tle­rock.

To con­serve dur­ing the statewide drought, the let­ter said, An­te­lope Val­ley wa­ter cus­tomers would have to col­lec­tively re­duce con­sump­tion 32%. But Chadd’s fam­ily of seven would be re­quired to cut con­sump­tion 70% or po­ten­tially see their bill triple.

“We were try­ing to fig­ure out … how we can do this and who’s go­ing to tell the kids that they can only use the bath­room on Mon­day and Fri­day?” he told county of­fi­cials at a meet­ing last week.

Lo­cal wa­ter agen­cies around Cal­i­for­nia, un­der or­ders by the state to make deep cuts to con­sump­tion, have come up with strate- gies that run the gamut. They in­clude giv­ing cash for rip­ping out lawns, fin­ing res­i­dents who over-wa­ter their plants or sim­ply ask­ing cus­tomers to de­crease their use. But Los An­ge­les County is con­sid­er­ing an un­usual con­ser­va­tion plan that is drawing an out­cry from res­i­dents whose wa­ter bills could sky­rocket.

Although the state wants to re­duce over­all ur­ban wa­ter use 25%, the county is re­quired to cut con­sump­tion 32% in the An­te­lope Val­ley and 36% in Malibu and Topanga — among the high­est man­dated re­duc­tions in the state.

Un­der the pro­posed plan, which county su­per­vi­sors are sched­uled to vote on Tues­day, the county wa­ter dis­tricts would cal­cu­late a sin­gle monthly tar­get for most res­i­den­tial users by de­duct­ing the per­cent­age re­duc­tion from av­er­age us­age for the area in 2013. Cus­tomers who ex­ceed the tar­get would pay dou­ble or triple the base rates.

Res­i­dents like Chadd, with larger than av­er­age fam­i­lies or prop­er­ties, say the for­mula is un­fair be­cause it sets the same tar­get for ev­ery­one re­gard­less of a cus­tomer’s cur­rent wa­ter

use or the num­ber of peo­ple in the house­hold.

Gary Hilde­brand, deputy direc­tor of the county’s public works depart­ment, which runs the county Wa­ter­works Dis­tricts, said there would be an ap­peal process to ad­dress house­holds with spe­cial cir­cum­stances.

But county of­fi­cials ar­gue that their ap­proach re­wards peo­ple who are al­ready con­serv­ing and gives heav­ier users the choice to cut back or pay higher rates. The county has im­ple­mented ir­ri­ga­tion re­stric­tions and of­fers in­cen­tives to res­i­dents who re­move their lawns or buy wa­ter-sav­ing ap­pli­ances, Hilde­brand said.

“Wa­ter’s be­com­ing more scarce in the drought, and when you have a scarce com­mod­ity, it’s go­ing to be­come more costly,” he said.

With hun­dreds of wa­ter sup­pli­ers around the state de­vel­op­ing dif­fer­ent plans to meet their con­ser­va­tion goals, ex­perts said there is no stan­dard ap­proach.

Some agen­cies, in­clud­ing the Los An­ge­les Depart­ment of Wa­ter and Power, have limited out­door wa­ter­ing and set fines for vi­o­la­tors, but have not put in place the type of penal­ties for in­di­vid­ual cus­tomers that the county is con­tem­plat­ing.

Other agen­cies that have drought sur­charges struc­tured them dif­fer­ently than what the county is propos­ing. The city of Glen­dale im­poses a f lat sur­charge on each hun­dred cu­bic feet of wa­ter sold. The Quartz Hill Wa­ter Dis­trict, which serves about 20,300 cus­tomers in the An­te­lope Val­ley, is re­quir­ing cus­tomers to cut their use 36% or face penal­ties. But the tar­get us­age amounts are based on each cus­tomer’s past use, not on an av­er­age across the dis­trict.

“It wouldn’t be fair to ask one cus­tomer to cut back 10% and one cus­tomer to cut back 50%,” said dis­trict spokes­woman Debi Pizzo.

She said the dis­trict also takes into ac­count fac­tors such as the num­ber of peo­ple in a house­hold and the lot size to de­ter­mine a con­ser­va­tion level for each cus­tomer, and wouldn’t im­pose the ex­tra charges on those who are al­ready be­low that level.

Stephanie Pincetl, direc­tor of the Cal­i­for­nia Cen­ter for Sus­tain­able Com­mu­ni­ties at UCLA, said she had not heard of an­other agency tak­ing an ap­proach like the one pro­posed by the county.

“I think it’s a first step and we’ll see how it works,” she said. “It’s worth giv­ing it a try and then ad­just­ing af­ter­ward.”

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