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San Diego Water Rate Dispute Heads Back To Court

The San Diego County Water Authority has been upgrading its existing water st...

Credit: San Diego County Water Authority

Above: The San Diego County Water Authority has been upgrading its existing water storage facilities in an effort to decrease reliance on the Metropolitan Water Authority. This photo shows construction at the San Vicente Dam to remove the right crest of the dam to increase the size of the reservoir, November 2009.

A rate dispute between San Diego water officials and the Metropolitan Water District in Los Angeles will land in front of an appeals court on Wednesday.

The San Diego County Water Authority hopes to recover more than $250 million in fees it says it was overcharged by the Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Water District. Local water managers already won a lower court ruling.

A judge found Metropolitan over-charged San Diego for water during a four-year period. Attorney Dan Purcell was hired by San Diego water managers to litigate the case.

He argued the San Diego Water Authority negotiated a long-term contract to buy water from the Imperial Valley, replacing the water they had bought from Metropolitan.

"So in retaliation for that, Met decided to inflate its transportation rates and penalize San Diego for finding an alternative supplier," Purcell said.

The judge ruled the Los Angeles water wholesaler added unrelated charges to the fees it charged San Diego for moving the Imperial Valley water through Metropolitan's aqueduct. Those charges totaled $250 million over a four-year period, money the lower court ordered returned to San Diego.

The appeal will likely not end the long-running dispute.

"Court's of Appeal issue their decisions by law within 90 days of the hearing. So by August 10th or so, we should have a ruling by the court of appeal and I would expect whichever party doesn't prevail will try to seek supreme court review, which might be granted and might not," Purcell said.

San Diego County Water Authority officials say the cost savings to San Diego could hit billions of dollars over the life of the long-term water purchase deal if the lower court ruling continues to be upheld.

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