The board room of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California in Los Angeles. Courtesy of the agency

By Jim Madaffer

Life during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a time of uncertainty and anxiety, but also a time of compromise and collaboration. We have all been asked to make sacrifices both big and small for the greater good — face masks, changing business operations, remote work, outdoor dining and countless other accommodations.

Public agencies — especially those that deliver an essential commodity like water — should operate in the same collaborative spirit to protect ratepayers and offer relief during the continuing economic fallout.

The San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies have taken action to protect ratepayers by implementing strong cost-cutting strategies to limit rate increases without sacrificing a safe and reliable water supply or the ability to plan for the future.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. And that has a direct, negative impact on water rates for San Diego County residents.

In June 2020, the San Diego County Water Authority board of directors voted to limit rate increases to only 4.8% to 4.9% in 2021. Shockingly, more than 60% of that is directly attributed to MWD, which supplies and delivers water to San Diego County and is increasing its costs to San Diego County by 8% starting January 2021.

Jim Madaffer

While the Water Authority has been cinching its belt to benefit ratepayers through freezing hiring, limiting travel and training programs and delaying equipment replacement, MWD has not done the same, or at least it has not adjusted its budget and rates in order to pass the benefit of any cost-cutting measures on to ratepayers. In fact, MWD’s board directed staff last April to look for cost-cutting measures to bring back to the MWD board this month — but MWD staff is now specifically recommending to not provide any additional rate relief.

In a September 2020 memo, MWD identified marginal cost-containment efforts to save less than 0.6% of its overall budget. Even with this, MWD staff recommended to not incorporate those savings to offer any rate relief because they believe member water agencies have not been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

That’s just simply not reality.

In San Diego County and across the country, we’re trying to recover from months of significant unemployment and severe revenue declines. Many ratepayers are unemployed and struggling to pay their rent, grocery bills and medical costs.

As the nation’s largest water agency, MWD can and should do better on behalf ratepayers throughout Southern California.

For one, MWD could benefit all its member agencies and ratepayers, including those here in San Diego County, by reducing its water delivery costs by $15 per acre-foot. This alone could provide up to $24 million in savings without affecting MWD’s ability to continue providing water to ratepayers.

One thing that’s become clear during this pandemic is that we must work together at the local and the regional levels to offer water rate relief for residents — and that requires every agency to do its part. We are open to any opportunities that benefit water ratepayers in San Diego County and offer our support to Metropolitan Water District to identify and implement strategies immediately.

To ask MWD for rate relief, go to www.sdcwa.org/support-rate-relief-mwd and submit a letter directly to MWD’s Board of Directors using a customizable template letter on the page.

Jim Madaffer is chair of the San Diego County Water Authority’s board of directors.

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