Big Water Rate Hikes On Tap For Some Valley Residents

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Some San Gabriel Valley residents could see their water rates go up by as much as 56 percent next year under a proposal by California American Water Co.

California American Water, which provides water to 28,000 households and businesses – or about 100,000 people – in the San Gabriel Valley, has applied with the state to raise water rates for its Los Angeles-area customers by an average of $17.12 per month.

Company officials say the permanent rate increases, which would begin to take effect as early as summer 2010, would pay for $17 million in needed infrastructure improvements, among other costs.

"The two main drivers are capital improvements…and the increased cost of purchased water," explained Operations Manager Garry Hofer.

The company’s Los Angeles service district includes portions of Bradbury, Duarte, El Monte, Irwindale, Monrovia, Rosemead, San Gabriel, San Marino and Temple City, as well as some unincorporated portions of Los Angeles County.

Consumers in those cities would see different rate increases, depending on their placement within one of three water districts – Duarte, San Marino and Baldwin Hills.

Under California American Water’s proposal, residents in the Duarte water district would see the largest jump in water bills – 56 percent in 2010, or an increase from an average of $30.50 a month to $47.55 a month. Another 4 percent increase averaging $1.89 a month would be added on in 2011.

The Duarte water district also includes parts of Irwindale, Bradbury, Monrovia and unincorporated county areas.

Residents in the San Marino and Baldwin Hills districts would see respective jumps of 31 percent and 37 percent in their rates in 2010, followed by another 3.5 percent and 3.3 percent increase in 2011.

The change in rates would become effective only after an 18- to 24-month review by the California Public Utilities Commission.

The capital improvements – some of which have already been approved by the state and completed – are necessary for a safe and reliable water supply, Hofer said.

"What’s at stake is not keeping up with needed replacement of old infrastructure," he said. "What happens when you have old infrastructure is you have additional leaks, you have wells that malfunction and all those mechanical issues and structural issues that come with infrastructure that’s pushing 70 years old."

Former Duarte mayor Robert Davey called the proposed hikes "outrageous."

"A 56 percent increase? In my wildest imagination I can’t imagine how any of those increases can be justified, especially considering the economy," he said. "Maybe we could afford it, but there are a lot of people in this city that are kind of on the edge. They don’t need anything like that."

Consumers have no choice but to rely on the state to guard against utility rate hikes, said Judy Dugan, research director at Consumer Watchdog, a Santa Monica-based consumer rights group.

"The PUC is not exactly the most ferocious watchdog in this government," Dugan said. "Their policy on rate increases for everything from telephone to cable TV… doesn’t appear to be vigilant."

Dugan described the $17-a-month increase as "hefty," but added that the total rates would still be not too far out of line with rates in the region.

"It’s the problem of having a private monopoly supplying an absolutely necessary good," she said.

California American Water plans to hold community hearings in May at the Duarte Community Center, San Marino City Hall and the Ladera Sheriff’s Service Center, officials said.

Contact the author at: [email protected] or (626) 578-6300, Ext. 4496

Consumer Watchdog
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