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San Diego Officials Slam Water Rate Hikes

San Diego County Water Authority officials criticized the budgets approved today by the Metropolitan Water District board that include 5 percent increases in wholesale water rates in each of the next to fiscal years.

The San Diego County Water Authority is in the pretrial stage of a lawsuit against MWD over its 2011-12 rate increase. San Diego officials argue the authority is charging more to make up for a steep 30 percent decline in water sales since 2006.

The San Diego County Water Authority had proposed its own budget that would have capped rate increases at 3 percent and cut operational costs to preserve money to fix aging infrastructure.

"By its vote today, MWD's board continues to spend more than is necessary to provide a safe and reliable water supply,'' San Diego County Water Authority Board Vice Chairman Thomas V. Wornham said.

"We are deeply disappointed that MWD's board and staff did not give meaningful consideration to our proposal, which would have funded all of MWD's core needs and provided some much-needed relief to 19 million water ratepayers in MWD's service area.''

San Diego County Water Authority Assistant General Manger Dennis Cushman said the 5 percent rate increases are an average. MWD's largest Tier 1 agencies like the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and Orange County Water District, will pay 9.2 percent more for water next year.

Cushman said San Diego County will pass all of the increase on to consumers.

"Ratepayers are staring down the barrels all of it. There's simply no way for us to absorb those increases,'' Cushman said.

Bob Muir of MWP said the rate increases will amount to about $1 per month for the average customer.

The $3.67 billion, two-year spending plan also includes $20 million a year for conservation programs and $33 million annually for a program that provides incentives for local water agencies to recycle.

The MWD, which sells water to agencies that serve about 19 million people in Southern California, said the budget included funds for infrastructure maintenance and conservation, but little else.

The board approved a $1.78 billion budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year and a $1.89 billion budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year.

The cuts include a $165 million, or 23 percent, decrease in the agency's capital program, said MWD General Manager Jeffrey Kightlinger. The district had eliminated 160 staff positions over the last three years, cuts included in the budget.

"For 70 years, we have delivered safe, reliable and affordable water to consumers and businesses throughout six Southland counties. That service continues to support the region's trillion-dollar economy,'' Kightlinger said.

"However, like many basic services today, our costs are increasing for a number of reasons. One of the biggest is the constant need to repair and upgrade our aging system to ensure the continued reliable delivery of water.''

More than 40 percent of the agency's infrastructure is more than 60 years old. The 242-mile Colorado River Aqueduct was completed in 1939. The share of MWD's budget going to refurbishing aging infrastructure rose from about 30 percent in 1998-99 to more than 50 percent over the next two years, officials said.

The first 5 percent increase in MWD's water rates will go into effect January and the second in January 2014.

The agency will also contribute $25 million toward the study of an environmental conservation plan for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, where the agency gets about 30 percent of Southern California's water supply.

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