District soaked by water costs

LA CRESCENTA — With their customers already paying some of the highest water rates in the region, Crescenta Valley Water District officials say they too are feeling the strain of rising bills.

In the past two years alone, the cost of imported water for the district has spiked nearly 75% — drastically affecting the utility's bottom line, officials said.

In 2010, the district paid an average $1,449 per acre foot of water from the Foothill Municipal Water District — more than double the $836 per acre foot paid in 2008, according to figures presented to board members last week.

Foothill, which imports much of its water from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, acts as a sort of intermediary supplier to agencies like the Crescenta Valley Water District.

Nearby Glendale Water & Power, which imports directly from Metropolitan, paid roughly $752 per acre foot in 2010, up from $594 per acre foot in 2009, said Assistant General Manager Peter Kavounas.

"I was surprised and somewhat shocked," Crescenta Valley Water District General Manager Dennis Erdman said.

But Foothill Municipal board member Richard Atwater said the cost increases shouldn't have been a revelation for Crescenta Valley officials who were tepid on a proposed parcel tax that would have protected customer bills.

Atwater — who once served concurrently on the Crescenta Valley water board — said local officials supported the capital improvement projects that begat the higher water costs.

"We didn't build anything they didn't support," he said.

He added that the Crescenta Valley board had sent a letter urging Foothill officials to hold off on sending a proposed parcel tax to the ballot that would have funded the improvements.

Foothill officials had originally planned to float the bond to voters this year, but postponed it indefinitely in response to two poorly attended community forums and concerns from member agencies.

"The [Crescenta Valley Water District] board preferred to have it on the water bill," Atwater said.

It hasn't helped that mandatory water conservation has meant less water sold, which means less income at a time when costs are fixed and capital improvements are beckoning, officials said.

"A lot of the costs for any water district are fixed, so when you've got the fixed costs and the amount purchased…ends up being much smaller, this ends up being the impact," said Foothill district General Manager Nina Jazmadarian.

Last week, James Bodnar, who sits on the Crescenta Valley board, said he wanted to develop a strategic plan to help the district handle the increased costs of imported water.

"We need to bring this issue to the table and figure out how we are going to deal strategically with Foothill increasing costs," he said.

For their part, Atwater and Jazmadarian said Foothill Municipal has scaled back spending in recent years, including eliminating a staff position and not awarding employee pay increases.

"We've tried to do as much as we can to absorb the Metropolitan rate increase and to lower the cost for the agencies," Jazmadarian said. "We've taken a hard look at our budget, and we are going to be starting the budget process again in a couple of months."

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