By Art Aguilar
San Gabriel Valley Tribune
Clean, safe water should be affordable and accessible to all citizens, not just the wealthy.
Central Basin Municipal Water District is proud of the fact we provide the most affordable water in the region. However, in these challenging economic times, our Board of Directors recognized we needed to do more to support the people of our community.
To help alleviate the burden of the rising cost of water on the people of southeast Los Angeles County, the Central Basin Board is announcing a Pledge to Freeze Water Rates for at least one year.
Moreover, we are challenging all other water agencies in the region to do the same.
In the words of one Bell resident from who came to us seeking help with her $700 water bill from the Golden State Water Company: “Enough is enough!”
We are tired of so-called political “water wars” that historically pit communities and agencies against each other in a fight for control over a vital public resource.
Central Basin will continue to protect and preserve our limited and precious water supplies for the public use. We will not stand aside and have this public resource monopolized, politicized or privatized in any way. Water must be accessible and affordable to all people.
We will fight, but only for the public’s interest, not for the pocketbooks of special interests. While we are tired of political “water wars” shaping the public debate, we believe firmly that access to such a natural resource like water is a civil-rights issue. The cost of water is a social justice issue that we as Californians can no longer afford to ignore and it is an issue worth fighting for.
The economically disadvantaged and historically underserved populations of southeast Los Angeles County have gotten the short end of the water pipe for long enough.
Central Basin prides itself on representing the people of the community and as such, we are committed to standing and fighting for them. In the past few years, this commitment has taken many forms.
We have gone to court to fight for justice on behalf of ratepayers by holding other water agencies accountable; we have supported legislation that would bring equity to current water rates and limit the ability of agencies like the Water Replenishment District to force southeast L.A. ratepayers to pay more for water than they should, in order to keep rates low for the wealthy communities of the South Bay.
In September, when a deeply distraught group of residents from Bell took sick days from their jobs to come to our offices in a desperate search for answers; we did everything we could to help them while not overstepping our limitations as the regional water wholesaler.
As a result of other, similar public outcries from across the state, the responsible retailer, Golden State Water Company, was fined $1 million by the California Public Utilities Commission for questionable rate setting practices.
But how have we gotten to a point where residents are being forced to decide between paying for water and buying food for their families? This question remains unanswered.
In an effort to address this, Last month, the Joint Legislative Audit Committee (JLAC) approved Assemblyman Ricardo Lara’s request for an audit of the water agencies in southeast L.A. County. As we informed the JLAC members that day, we intend to cooperate fully with any legitimate effort to explain the rising water rates of the southeast county and support this audit.
However, while we are respectful of the legislative process, we also know that these state audits take time and we do not think the ratepayers should have to wait several months before they begin to see rate relief.
This is why the Central Basin Board of Directors is proposing a rate freeze for at least one year and we call on Metropolitan Water District, the Water Replenishment District, West Basin Municipal Water District and all local retailers to do the same.
Developing a budget that will allow us to freeze our rates has not been easy, but we got it done. To achieve this, we have reviewed every expense with a fine-tooth comb twice over. We also had to make some tough decisions to suspend, eliminate or cutback vital conservation and community programs. We hope that the affected residents, schools and program partners will understand. We were also able to begin enacting an aggressive plan to increase recycled water sales and boost revenues in the next fiscal year.
While we are still forced to pass through the rates from Metropolitan Water District, the ratepayers of our service area can rest assured that Central Basin has not increased our portion of the rate by one penny.
To the wholesale water agencies who claim that our rates somehow drive theirs; our pledge should enable them to minimize, decrease or freeze their prices also.
We implore Metropolitan Water District to take the same hard look we did at our expenses and rescind the rate increases it approved this week and freeze rates at their current level.
Water is the most vital part of every person’s quality of life. Affordable access to water should not be awarded to the highest bidder and should not be treated like a game piece in a political war.
Central Basin challenges the Metropolitan Water District, the Water Replenishment District and West Basin Municipal Water District and others to take this stand with us for the people’s right to equal access and affordable water.
Art Aguilar is general manager of the Central Basin Municipal Water District.