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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

New MWD Policy May Cut Water Price by 10%

May 17, 2000|KATIE COOPER SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Most Ventura County residents are likely to pay less for their water when a new price structure approved by the giant Metropolitan Water District in Los Angeles kicks in next year.

Officials said that under the new structure approved in April, the MWD will require its 27 member agencies to buy a set amount of water over a five-year period, spreading the cost of water more evenly among all agencies.

That change could cut water costs as much as 10% for most of this county, said Donald Kendall, general manager of Calleguas Municipal Water District in Thousand Oaks. Calleguas serves about 600,000 local customers in the east county, Camarillo, Oxnard and Port Hueneme.

"This is something we wanted to see happen," Kendall said.

He said that agencies such as Calleguas, which rely exclusively on the MWD for water, often pay higher rates when other agencies with alternative supplies fail to purchase water that the wholesaler set aside for them.

He cited the city of Los Angeles, one of the largest of MWD's customers, as an example. In plentiful years, he said, the city reduces its purchases of water from the wholesaler, relying more on its supplies from the Owens Valley on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada.

"Then Met raises everybody else's rates," Kendall said. "Districts like Calleguas are left extremely vulnerable."

Local water sellers that buy water from Calleguas also welcomed the change.

Don Nelson, public works director in Thousand Oaks, said the adjustment is long overdue.

"We've been overburdened with the costs of [MWD] users who use that water on an infrequent basis," Nelson said.

He said Thousand Oaks' water rates reflect its costs. And if they are contained, then customers should expect a freeze or reduction in rates, or a rebate.

Kendall cautioned that local cities that use other water supplies along with Calleguas water should carefully calculate their purchases to avoid paying higher rates for amounts that exceed their contract level.

"A city that has alternative sources does run the risk of having potentially higher rates if they blow their estimates," he said.

Oxnard, for example, blends local ground water with water imported through Calleguas. But Water Supt. Ken Ortega said he has no concerns about estimating the amount the city needs from Calleguas.

And he said he is eager to see how large the dip in water rates will turn out to be.

"We're hoping there will be a substantial reduction," Ortega said. "And hopefully this will move a little more quickly than electrical deregulation."

Kendall said he expects the new rates to be finalized in December and the new structure to be phased in over the following two years.

An MWD spokesman said the agency is embracing the proposal not to lower prices on the user end, but to open the water market to competition.

The mega-agency has been under pressure to change the way it does business. A 1986 state law mandated that the district allow private water sellers to use its canal distribution system, and critics charge the agency with dragging its feet. A bill that recently died in committee in Sacramento would have set rates for private users of the canals.

"We're trying to create an environment with a competitive water market," said spokesman Adan Ortega.

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