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Water Replenishment District sets rates for 2015-16

LAKEWOOD — Board members of the Water Replenishment District of Southern California, based here, have increased the replenishment rate it charges to cities and private water providers from the current $268 per acre foot to $283 per acre foot as of July 1. An acre foot is about 326,000 gallons.

The 5.6 percent rate hike was approved on a 4-0 vote after a final public hearing May 1 at district headquarters.

In favor were Vice Chairman Willard Murray and board members Sergio Calderon, Robert Katherman and John S. Allen. Board President Albert Robles was reportedly ill and did not attend the meeting.

District Finance Director Scott Otta said the levy will bring in an estimated $69 million, providing most of the district’s budget of about $72.6 million.

The budget was also approved on a 4-0 vote.

The district, a state-created agency which covers most of South Los Angeles County, buys outside water from the Metropolitan Water District through the Commerce-based Central Basin Municipal Water District.

MWD water, brought in from the Colorado River and Sacramento River Delta region, is spread along the San Gabriel River in Pico Rivera to trickle down into Central Basin aquifers, replacing water pumped out of the ground to customers.

It is up to water providers whether to pass along the rate hike to their customers.

Otta noted that there was no rate hike last year and the district ended up with a $10 million deficit budget.

This year’s budget wipes out the deficit and leaves the district with a surplus of about $9.8 million, under the $10 million in reserves allowed under state law. A higher balance would requirement a lower rate or repayment to the water providers, he said in a written report.

Additional revenue includes about $2.7 million from the Vander Lans treatment plant in southeast Long Beach and $810,000 from the Goldsworthy Desalter in Torrance, which sells the water to that city.

Expenses include about $42.1 million for the purchase of water, $4.5 million for the operation of the Vander Lans facility, $1.1 million for the operation of the desalter, $1.2 million for ground water monitoring, $693,000 for water conservation education programs, $351,000 for board of directors pay and offices, $3.7 million for administrative costs, and $638,000 set aside for pension payments to the state.

Otta said added expenses included $600,000 for elections (of the five board members) and $4.3 million for litigation costs.

Unlike past years, when a number of protests occurred over the replenishment rate and resulted in numerous lawsuits, no one protested at the public hearing or in writing, General Manager Robert Whittaker said.

The rate hike was supported by a seven-person advisory board composed of water providers.

In addition, attorney Francisco Leal said the district has reached an out-of-court settlement with the cities of Bellflower, Cerritos, Downey and Signal Hill.

The four cities had alleged that past district assessments were illegal because the district did not follow the public hearing process outlined in Proposition 218.

The district contended the assessment fee was a service charge not subject to Proposition 218. A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ruled otherwise.

That will be appealed and the litigation with Pico Rivera, the Pico Water District and several companies and individuals continues, Leal said.