Executive Summary for January 7th

State officials this week approved millions of dollars in new spending to help utilities cope with leakage reporting requirements and to subsidize clean water projects. And then there’s Beverly Hills: Why would one of California’s wealthiest cities reject a water-rate increase?

Published on Jan. 7, 2016 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Millions for New Water Projects

This week, the latest data on statewide water conservation got all the attention. But the same agency that oversees conservation also approved spending millions of dollars for new water projects and conservation efforts.

At its meeting Tuesday, the State Water Resources Control Board approved spending a total of $4.4 million in two areas:

  • $3.2 million to help water utilities track leakage in their systems. This allocation is intended to mesh with the requirements of Senate Bill 555, a new law that requires water agencies to report annually how much water is lost to leaks in their distribution pipes. The money will go to water agencies that need financial support to launch leakage monitoring programs.

  • $1.2 million in clean water grants. This money can help pay for wastewater recycling and stormwater etreatment projects that can supplement drinking water supplies. It could also be used for systems to treat contaminated drinking water supplies, whether from wells or surface water.

The leakage reporting is particularly important. Plumbing leaks are a fact of life, but until the passage of SB 555, we had no system in place for tracking how much treated drinking water is lost to leakage. Some studies have estimated leakage losses at as much as 10 percent in California. This is just an educated guess. But that is enough water – already diverted, treated and delivered at great expense – to serve two million families per year.

The new law will provide data on the worst-offending water agencies so help can get to where it’s needed to stop the leaks, whether that means money or technical assistance.

“This is a really important step for our state,” State Water Board member Steven Moore said.

Beverly Hills Rejects Water Rate Increase

You might think the residents of Beverly Hills have enough money to handle a little water rate increase. Turns out it’s more complicated than that.

On Tuesday, the Beverly Hills City Council rejected a new rate plan that would have boosted water rates 22 percent for homeowners, 52 percent for owners of apartment buildings, and 24.6 percent for businesses.

While those are fairly big numbers for a single rate increase, it would hardly seem like a stretch for someone who earns $185,000 per year, the median income in Beverly Hills, the third-wealthiest community in the sprawling Los Angeles region.

But there’s a bit more to the story.

It turns out that the city of Beverly Hills also provides water to a portion of the neighboring community of West Hollywood. There, the median income is about $53,000 per year – which makes it No 182 on the income list among L.A. neighborhoods.

Beverly Hills City Council member Lauren Meister complained that public notice of the planned rate increase was not adequately extended to West Hollywood ratepayers.

“There is such disrespect for West Hollywood customers,” Meister said, according to the news website Wehoville. She proposed that the city hold a community meeting with its West Hollywood customers before proceeding with the rate increase.

The situation a small example of how complicated California water can be. And it doesn’t stop there.

Because part of West Hollywood is served by Beverly Hills, it faces a state-mandated water conservation requirement of 30 percent during the ongoing drought, because that is the requirement imposed on Beverly Hills water customers. But the rest of West Hollywood, which is served by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, must reduce its water use only 16 percent.

Meister said that doesn’t seem fair, given that West Hollywood has less in common with Beverly Hills, where homes and residential lots are much larger and landscaping more lavish.

“There is something that is not equitable here,” she said.

The city council asked its staff to make a number of changes in the water rate proposal and bring it back for another look.

Top image: Tony Corcoran surveys water coming out of a drain in Beverly Hills, California, in June 2015. The City Council this week rejected a water-rate increase, but not for reasons that might be obvious. (Jae C. Hong, Associated Press)

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