Water faucet. Photo credit: Matthew Bowden/Wiki Commons
Water faucet. Photo byMatthew Bowden via Wikimedia Commons

A proposal to hire a consultant to study future rates for San Diego municipal water customers, and increase transparency in developing the prices, received initial backing Thursday from the City Council’s Environment Committee.

The suggestion by the Utility Consumers Action Network stemmed from the council’s approval in November 2015 of rate increases that will total around 40 percent over five years.

“We understand that the costs to service the provision of water to San Diego customers required a large increase,” Don Kelly of UCAN told committee members.

“What concerned us, however, was the fact that the proposal put forward by the (Public Utilities Department) was designed and then brought to stakeholders, brought to the council, pretty much as a `this is what our proposal is,’” Kelly said. “You either take it or you don’t.”

The rates were based on a study of the city’s costs to provide water to customers, taking infrastructure needs and the price of imported water into account. Cities and water districts are not allowed to charge customers more than they spend on providing a product.

Kelly said he wanted stakeholder input before the rates were designed and prior to approval of the Cost of Service study.

PUD Director Halla Razak said her department would begin work on its new rate case in the spring of 2019.

The plan approved unanimously by the committee would authorize the city’s Independent Budget Analyst’s Office to hire a consultant to analyze the details underpinning PUD’s next rate case. Also, the committee would propose an ordinance requiring increased transparency in the process.

The City Attorney’s Office will draft documents to bring back to the committee in the future before the proposal goes before the full City Council.

Before the current rates were approved, Razak said the cost of imported water from the San Diego County Water Authority and Metropolitan Water District had gone from around $500 per acre-foot to $1,200 per acre-foot over the past decade.

San Diego’s pricing to consumers is still lower than the average of other local water agencies, she said.

— City News Service