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Report On SD Water Rates Is Flashpoint

UCSD professor Steve Erie talks about a report he co-authored on San Diego's water costs.

We're sorry. This audio clip is no longer available. A transcript has been made available.

A report issued this week, "The Cost of Water in San Diego: The IID Transfer And SDCWA Water Rates," makes for riveting reading for water historians and employees of water districts. It's pretty interesting for consumers, too.

The Metropolitan Water District, to which most Southern California water agencies - including the San Diego County Water Authority - belong, commissioned the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC) to study the costs of water and water transfer in San Diego after a lawsuit San Diego filed against the MWD.

The study presents evidence that the high cost of water in San Diego is attributable to several factors, the largest being the San Diego County Water Authority's decision to become more independent of the MWD by buying expensive water from the Imperial Irrigation District. This, says the report, has caused SDCCWA's member agencies to be assessed much higher rates - a 123 percent increase in the period from 2003 to 2010. In addition, MWD's rates have also gone up.

The report notes that this desire to become independent led the SDCWA to make big investments in infrastructure leading to a big increase in its debt -- from $864 million to over $2.4 billion in seven years.

The SDCWA counters that the study is neither independent nor objective:

This so-called independent economic study is neither independent nor a study. It is full of factual errors, and is deliberately misleading. It is a desperate attempt to distract attention from MWD’s illegal water rates. It was paid for with ratepayer money funneled through the ‘pay-to-play’, ‘invitation-only’ ‘Secret Society’ created to justify MWD’s illegal water rates.

Steve Erie, a UC San Diego professor who co-authored the report. While SDCWA claims that the consultants on the report were "hand picked" for their viewpoints, Erie told KPBS that he was not biased.

"There's always going to be an effort for the clients to try to influence," Erie said. "The LAEDC, I've done seven reports for them, is supposed to have a hands-off relationship and to separate the consultants from the clients. There's a firewall and the team was carefully chosen."

Although Erie was hired as an expert witness by MWD in litigation against SDCWA, Erie said he's been an expert witness in many trials, including one against the city of Los Angeles, which could then also make him biased against them.

"Being an expert witness doesn't mean all you're doing is opining on things that you claim to know about," he said.


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