“The gist of the argument is that MWD charged excessive water transmission costs, but less for the water itself, and that the payments subsidize other customers. MWD has denied any impropriety and notes that existing law provides latitude in setting costs.”
The long-standing water feud between officials in arid San Diego County and the sprawling regional water agency that serves them is making new waves, so to speak. The San Diegans say the Metropolitan Water District, the wholesaler for most of Southern California, secretly plotted to boost the locals’ cost for water – by $31 million more this year, and by $230 million over the next decade.
The MWD – the bureaucratic behemoth that everybody likes to hate — says its pricing structure is fair, driven in part by the need to spread fixed costs over the sale of smaller amounts of water resulting from drought and recession.
The U-T’s Mike Lee got hold in advance of a court brief filed by lawyers representing the 24-district San Diego County Water Authority that contended the “majority members of Metropolitan’s Board have consistently acted only in their own narrow individual interests and … have regularly conducted secret meeting outside of regular Board meetings where they have entered into agreements to set rates and established other practices expressly designed to shift costs to the Water Authority.”
The gist of the argument is that MWD charged excessive water transmission costs, but less for the water itself, and that the payments subsidize other customers. MWD has denied any impropriety and notes that existing law provides latitude in setting costs.
A decision on the merits of the case – it’s being heard in a San Francisco courtroom – is not expected until next year.
But it’s being played out against a backdrop of spiraling rates and dwindling supplies, the classic mix of a California water dispute.
Meanwhile, the Imperial Irrigation District remains in the case on the side of San Diego, as does the United Consumer Action Network, or UCAN, which believes the dispute directly affects San Diego customers. And San Diego intends later to challenge MWD’s rate-integrity program, which the superagency adopted in 2004, by adding it to the larger suit over costs.
The SD-MWD dispute dramatically reflects the stakes in a major water clash. Water defines growth, development and survival. The controller of that water in Southern California is the MWD’s 37-member board, which it gives it enormous political and pocketbook power. This is a case to watch.