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10% Water Rate Hike Lurks Upstream

Metropolitan Water District will raise prices over next two years. San Diego water officials say the increase should have been lower.

Higher water bills are on tap after the Metropolitan Water District approved a 10 percent hike in wholesale water rates by 2014.

The MWD, which sells water to local agencies serving about 19 million people in Southern California, said the rate hike would help pay for repairs to the state's aqueduct system and infrastructure. Hermosa Beach gets its water through the California Water Service Company, Rancho Dominguez District, which is among those agencies serviced by the MWD.

"Our costs are increasing for a number of reasons," MWD general manager Jeffrey Kightlinger said. "One of the biggest is the constant need to repair and upgrade our aging system to ensure the continued reliable delivery of water.''

Nearly half 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 earmarked for refurbishing infrastructure has jumped from about 30 percent in 1998-99 to more than 50 percent over the next two years, officials said.

Although the MWD doesn't charge homeowners and other water users directly, its higher fees are likely to be passed along by local water agencies.

The rate hikes would have been steeper if the MWD hadn't eliminated 160 staff positions over the past three years, said Jeffrey Kightlinger, the MWD's general manager.

However, San Diego County Water Authority officials said they were deeply
disappointed in the approved budget. The agency 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.''

On Tuesday, the MWD board approved a $1.78 billion budget for fiscal year 2012-13 and $1.89 billion for 2013-14. The budget 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 agency will also contribute $25 million to study an environmental conservation plan for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, where the MWD gets about 30 percent of Southern California's water supply.

A 5 percent increase in MWD's water rates will begin in January 2013 and again in January 2014.

-- City News Service contributed to this report.

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