Lou Binninger: private water providers like Cal Water charge up to 80 percent more than municipal providers

8 Oct

Marysville Can’t Afford Cal Water By Lou Binninger

Territorial Dispatch, Oct. 7 2015

http://territorialdispatch.biz/2015/oct/Oct7-2015WEB.pdf

 Marysville households are in shock over their water bills. Olivehurst, Linda and Yuba City residents can use much more water, add their sewer fee and still pay far less than Marysville people spend just for water. And, many of those water bills are larger than what people owe for PG and E. 

Why? Marysville is controlled by California Water Service (CWS), a for-profit corporation. CWS is known for high water rates, big profits and generous dividends. The other water systems are municipal, owned by the people and have low rates.

CWS bills are steep enough to cause customers to move. Cheaper options are 5 minutes away, just outside Marysville city limits.

Most Marysville lawns and landscaping were brown prior to drought restrictions. People could not afford the price of water in 2012. The city looks like no one gives a damn. Properties look abandoned.

However, other cities found a solution. Create a public water company and purchase the infrastructure (pipes, wells, tanks etc.). The citizens of Marysville already own the water. CWS is paid to deliver that water to them.

Food & Water Watch (FWW), a nonprofit advocate for safe and affordable drinking water, helps communities move to public control. In 2009, FWW studied nearly 5,000 water utilities and 1,900 sewer utilities and concluded that private entities charge up to 80 percent more for water and 100 percent more for sewer services.

CWS rates are much higher, 3-4 times higher.

In the current CWS rate case submitted to the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) more than half of the requested 25% increase goes to improving CWS operations in San Jose. Less than one mile of the more than 54 miles of Marysville water line is listed to be replaced. In the last rate case CWS wanted 47% (2013) more and before that they were awarded a 55.5% (2011) spike in rates.

In November 2002, CalAm (Cal-American Water Co), the City of Felton’s (pop 4057-yr 2010) water provider, proposed a 74% rate increase over three years. Felton residents formed Friends of Locally Owned Water (FLOW), and with legal help from Santa Cruz County, fought the rate increase. CPUC reduced it to 44%.

However, fearing future escalating costs, FLOW began working on a plan to buy the water system and turn it over to nearby San Lorenzo Valley Water District (SLVWD), a public utility. By 2005, FLOW enlisted the help of FWW and worked on a ballot initiative to raise the funds to buy the system.

They were successful. The ballot initiative won with nearly 75 percent of the vote. SLVWD then proposed to buy the system for $7.6 million. CalAm/RWE refused to sell. SLVWD pursued eminent domain to force a buyout. Just before the case was to go to jury trial, Cal-Am agreed to terms.

Today, with Felton now served by a public utility, the average resident’s bill has dropped by at least 50%. FLOW has calculated that even with using a property tax increase to pay off Cal-Am, most residents are already saving as much as $400 per year.

Citizens of Ojai (pop 7581-yr 2013), east of Santa Barbara, have been working on buying-out Golden State Water (GSW) and joining adjacent Casitas Municipal Water District. Casitas delivers water at one-third the price. In 2008, GSW hiked its water rates by 34.9%. In January 2011 they bumped rates again 26.2%.

On August 13, 2013, Measure V was put on the ballot to approve joining Casitas, issue bonds to buy GSW and make capital improvements. It passed with 87.4% of the vote.

Ojai customers expect 10-15% rate decreases the first year after purchase and for rates to remain stable. The typical customer would experience an annual savings of $141.00. They project that savings will increase to $1500.00 per year by 2025.

Though the court has ruled for Ojai FLOW / Casitas Water District to purchase Golden State, the legal wrangling continues. The Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal in July 2015.

Marysville residents have been slapped with similar or greater rate increases as either Felton or Ojai. No wonder Appeal Democrat writer Harold Kruger believes Marysville leaders are soft on the issue. Maybe it’s time the residents take charge.

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