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Drought of Clear Thinking About Water : Valley Residents May Favor Lower Rates, but Conservation Incentive Should Be Preserved

March 06, 1994

Who says the San Fernando Valley has no clout at City Hall? Evidence to the contrary could be found in the recommendations of the Mayor's Blue Ribbon Panel on Water Rates. The panel recommended, as The Times reported last week, that the city drop a water-rate system that Valley homeowners consider punitive. The panel also wants a lower winter-rate structure maintained through the summer or until a more "equitable" rate system can be drafted.

Mayor Riordan supports the panel recommendations--although in this case the Valley's newfound clout was not put to very good use.

Under the water-rate system adopted in November, 1992, and enacted in January, 1993, there were two payment tiers for residential customers. Those who used more than twice the median amount of water of the average Department of Water and Power customer were charged significantly higher rates, while the bills of smaller users were commensurately lower.

The reasoning behind this plan was sound, and it remains so. Los Angeles sits within a desert region, a situation that is not likely to change in the remaining years of this millennium or the next. It often has uncertain water supplies, and the new rate system encouraged conservation.

Yet another result was higher costs for those residents who have bigger lawns and live in the city's hottest regions, such as the Valley. Well, the system was meant to penalize those who use more of this region's most precious commodity and reward those who use less.

Yes, the plan may require fine-tuning. The new rate plan, for example, generated $4 million in surplus revenues last year. Its goal is still valid. If the big water users had consumed less than twice the amount of the average DWP customer, they would not have been subjected to the higher bills. That's a point that seems to have been missed.

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