Tropico Perspective: Water upgrades are worth the cost

We all know that the economic recovery for Glendale, like all of California, isn’t progressing as quickly as we would like, and money is in short supply, but the proposal by Glendale Water & Power to adjust water rates is both timely and necessary.

More importantly for the City Council’s consideration, it’s also remarkably fair.

My first exposure to the aging water infrastructure came from Adams Hill residents whose homes were built on lots divided in the 1950s without direct access to water mains. The infrastructure is inadequate to serve the community, with so few hydrants that a devastating fire is a real possibility, and existing water mains need to be relined, having reached the end of their service life.

Nearly a quarter-million feet of water pipe in Glendale needs to be replaced or relined, and the utility does not have the reserves or rate structure to support needed improvements.

Residents have good reason to be skeptical when millions of dollars that could have been allocated for infrastructure support were transferred over the years to the Glendale General Fund, which pays for many public services. But with Proposition 218 in place, the City Council can no longer use the utility as an ATM, and the money needed to keep the water running stays with the utility.

I suppose we could sue to get all the money back. But I suspect that dozens of pipes will have burst before a penny shows up, and it would be paid for by taking cops off the beat and closing a few more libraries. It might not be a good trade.

It is also reasonable to question the $4-million premium the Glendale Water & Power spent upgrading aging water meters to smart meters, but for a city the size of Glendale, it wasn’t a bad long-term investment.

Considering that it already identified 7,000 homes with leaking water pipes and is able to track water leaks on unmetered lines, the system has great potential to pay for itself in conservation alone.

While the necessity of the improvements is evident, the remaining issues before council should be whether the increases sought are reasonable and fair.

While Burbank enjoys slightly lower rates than Glendale, they have a large industrial base with a smaller residential customer base. They also have seen successive 5% annual increases and a single 13.5% increase this year, while Glendale has remained flat for most of the last decade. Even with the proposed Glendale Water & Power rate increases, Burbank is quickly gaining ground.

I suppose a few might find it unfair to be asked to conserve water only to have to end up paying more for it. The reality is that the costs to maintain and service the system don’t change with water consumption, and the conservation left the utility with a deficit. Because the proposed rate structure recognizes and allocates funding to those fixed costs, the new rates are actually more transparent.

The rate of increase over the next four years is reasonable for another reason: Glendale Water & Power recognizes that we are still early in California’s anticipated economic, and the rate increases are gradual so as not to put too much strain on the community.

But is it fair? While the community has been justifiably critical of the transfer payments imposed on the utility by past city councils, most are unaware that residential customers have been subsidizing the actual costs of providing water service to businesses in Glendale.

While it is true that businesses will see a substantial increase in their fixed meter rates, these increases reflect the actual costs of providing the service. While I sympathize with businesses looking at a bump in rates, we shouldn’t expect residential rate payers to pay more to keep their prices low. And if we take out the business component of the new rate plan, there will not be enough money to service and maintain the system.

Lastly, it is fair because it keeps water rates low for consumers who are diligent about conservation and gives water hogs the kick in the pants they need to get their act together. The reality is that the less water we have to buy from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California — which costs nearly twice as much as Glendale’s own resources — the less we all have to pay. When your neighbor uses less water, we all save money.

I get that utilities aren’t glamorous, and history hasn’t reflected kindly on their relationship with the city of Glendale, but I don’t think Glendale Water & Power is to blame.

Looking back doesn’t address the problems we face right now. The new rate plan is reasonable, fair and allocates the actual costs of providing services more fairly to those that actually use them.

The need is urgent, and the time to act is now.

MICHAEL TEAHAN is a business owner and lives in Glendale. He can be reached at

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