Paying through the nose for imported water

By Pam Slater-Price and Bill Horn

San Diego County residents are paying too much for a valuable liquid, and it’s not just gasoline.

It’s imported water. Nearly 3.1 million local consumers — that’s most of us — are paying too much for imported water. We pay a premium to purchase and transport it from Northern California and the Colorado River.

And we entrust the powerful water agencies that bring us imported water to charge us fairly. But at least one of them isn’t.

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is grossly overcharging our regional wholesaler, the San Diego County Water Authority, exposing ratepayers to tens of millions of dollars annually in disproportionate costs. This is money right out of your pocket.

The dollar figures are alarming.

In a lawsuit, the Water Authority estimates that Met’s overcharges will total $40 million this year and could climb to $2.1 billion by 2047.

As a result, the county Board of Supervisors this week adopted a resolution supporting the Water Authority in its court fight.

With our action, we joined the cities of San Diego, Escondido, Oceanside, Poway, and Del Mar and at least 10 local water districts that are siding with the Water Authority. Also supporting the Water Authority are the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, Downtown San Diego Partnership and the San Diego County Taxpayers Association.

To understand our collective outrage, here is the background:

The sprawling Metropolitan Water District of Southern California serves 26 “member agencies” in Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties.

Among those agencies, only the San Diego County Water Authority pays Met a separate fee to transport its independent water supply. The source of that supply is the Colorado River, and the Water Authority gains access to it through long-term agreements with the Imperial Irrigation District and the federal government. Water from those agreements comprises 25 percent of San Diego County’s current supply portfolio.

But getting that water — millions of gallons of it — from Imperial Valley to San Diego County requires the use of Metropolitan’s pipelines and pumps.

Metropolitan charges the Water Authority for its so-called “transportation costs.” That’s fair. What’s not fair are the unrelated charges, including the cost of Met’s own water supplies, that Met tacks onto the Water Authority’s bill.

In other words, local consumers are paying Metropolitan for water that the Water Authority purchases independently. That means we pay an inflated transportation cost, which in turn subsidizes the costs paid by Metropolitan’s 25 remaining member agencies.

If the court rules in favor of the Water Authority, San Diego County ratepayers will see the benefits.

Refunds would go to the 24 retail water agencies and cities within the county and, by extension, their ratepayers.

A case management hearing for the lawsuit is scheduled for April 11. In the meantime, the Water Authority will continue to build its case.

Our message for consumers: We have been a cash cow for Met for far too long and we are paying through the nose for no valid reason.

Pam Slater-Price represents District 3 and Bill Horn represents District 5 on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.