A court ruling Thursday confirmed that the San Diego County Water Authority has prevailed in the first phase of a long-running, historic rate litigation against the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

The statement of decision by San Francisco County Superior Court Judge Curtis E. A. Karnow affirmed his Feb. 25 tentative ruling in the water authority’s favor. Karnow determined that Los Angeles-based MWD violated cost of service requirements of California’s Constitution, statutes and common law when setting rates for 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014.

The San Diego County Water Authority is upgrading the All-American Canal to increase water supplies from sources other than the Metropolitan Water District. Photo courtesy water authority

The litigation could save San Diego water users up to $2 billion in alleged overcharges by MWD.

“Today’s decision seals our victory in this pivotal phase of the litigation,” said Thomas V. Wornham, chair of the water authority’s board of directors.  “There’s still a long road ahead, but such a strong validation of our efforts only enhances our determination to continue this fight on behalf of San Diego County ratepayers.”

MWD General Manager Jeffrey Kightlinger said following Karnow’s tentative ruling in February that MWD was confident its structure of charging all agencies the same rates for the same services was both logical and legal.

During its regular monthly meeting on Thursday, the water authority’s board voted unanimously to authorize another lawsuit against MWD over rates it adopted on April 8 for 2015 and 2016 despite the legal challenge.

The Water Authority filed its first lawsuit against MWD in 2010, then filed a second suit in 2012 because MWD refused to reform its rates, which effectively force San Diego County ratepayers to subsidize water ratepayers in other parts of Southern California.

“We’ve said all along that MWD is not above the law,” said Maureen Stapleton, general manager of the water authority.  “I hope that Met’s board of directors listens to a judge saying the same thing and conducts a real, independent cost-of-service study and sets rates that comply with the law.”

The lawsuits stem from historic agreements signed a decade ago to secure independent sources of water from the Colorado River and reduce the San Diego region’s once near-total reliance on MWD for water. 

— From a San Diego County Water Authority press release

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.