By Claire Harlin
The Del Mar City Council on Feb. 21 voted unanimously to support the San Diego County Water Authority’s (SDCWA) rate challenge lawsuit against the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD), in which a Superior Court judge on Feb. 17 reaffirmed an order granting discovery in the case.
SDCWA spokesman Dennis Cushman presented the issue to the council in what Councilman Don Mosier described as a “convincing argument.” In its lawsuit, SDCWA claims the water district illegally overcharges San Diego County ratepayers tens of millions of dollars annually for the transportation of water and also forces the county to subsidize the water costs of MWD’s other 25 member agencies. Cushman estimated the overcharges add up to about $40 million, and 55 percent of water costs in this region comes from payments to MWD, a consortium of 26 cities and water districts that provides drinking water to nearly 19 million people in several Southern California counties.
The lawsuit also claims MWD breached a 2003 contract with the water authority in which it pledged to follow applicable law in charging for water transportation, and it challenges MWD’s imposition of a contract provision that SDCWA claims is designed to prevent a rate challenge in court.
In reaffirming a prior ruling last week, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Richard A. Kramer rejected attempts by MWD to assert limits on discovery before the process even commenced, according to SDCWA.
District 3 County Supervisor Pam Slater-Price said the County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to consider a similar resolution supporting the lawsuit, and urged the Del Mar City Council to do the same. Nine local water districts have also declared support.
“We need to nail this down in a court of law,” she said. “It’s unfair to our ratepayers who have been paying through the nose for a long time.”
MWD claims SDCWA agreed to its set costs in 2003 to transport water from the Imperial Irrigation District (IID).
According to the MWD website, “SDCWA chose to pay more for IID water than it would for Metropolitan’s supplies to achieve a degree of water independence and additional reliability.
“However, SDCWA has no pipeline network to transport this water from IID and can only use Metropolitan’s facilities,” the site states. MWD further claims that SDCWA’s lawsuit seeks to avoid paying its share of the maintenance and transportation system that involves carrying water from the Colorado River (more than 200 miles to the east) and from Northern California’s Feather River system (more than 400 miles away) through a complex system of pipes, canals and aqueducts in which water is lifted hundreds of feet over mountains and hills by massive pumps.
To learn more about the lawsuit and to read the legal documents filed in the case, visit: www.sdcwa.org/mwdrate-challenge.