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Water Wars Spreading

Aired 1/25/13 on KPBS News.

San Diego County Water Authority is suing its counterpart in Riverside. It’s the latest splash in water wars that involve millions of ratepayer dollars.

Riverside’s water authority hired a consultant for $15,000 a month to work with key stakeholders in San Diego, like the Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Council. The San Diego County Water Authority, CWA, is wondering why.

The allegation is that Riverside is siding with the powerful LA-based Metropolitan Water District, which is locked in a legal battle with San Diego over water rates. CWA claims MWD is overcharging San Diego for water to the tune of $50 million a year.

Dennis Cushman of CWA said the Riverside agency, the Eastern Municipal Water District, appears to be trying to undermine the San Diego water agency’s position among local business leaders.

“That’s why we’re seeking a court order,” he said, “so we can understand exactly what it is they are doing in our community in San Diego, who’s is behind it, and what’s their message.”

The Riverside water agency released a statement saying they are acting independently of Metropolitan. But they pointed out their customers stand to pay $180 million more in water rates to back fill the void if San Diego wins the lawsuit.

Cushman said the effort to discredit his agency is about bolstering the power and profits of Metropolitan.

“It’s about a monopoly losing control over a golden goose,” he said, “and we’re that golden goose.”

CWA has been taking steps to generate more independent supplies of water, such as from Imperial Valley and from desalination.

The San Diego County Water Authority estimates that by 2021, more than $200 million of San Diego ratepayers’ money will be at stake in the lawsuit with MWD.

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