Water rates likely to rise

Foothill Municipal Water District will continue cost-cutting measures intended to lighten the load on La Cañada Flintridge homeowners’ wallets, but it is unlikely those efforts will be enough to keep water rates from going up next year.

Because of very limited local groundwater supplies, retail water agencies in La Cañada Flintridge — Valley Water Co. and La Cañada Irrigation District, for example — import the vast majority of the city’s water through the Foothill Municipal Water District, a wholesale water distribution agency supplied by the regional Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

Metropolitan, which pumps from the Sacramento Delta and the Colorado River, has raised its fees for agencies such as Foothill a record four times in the past four years. And 2012 will be no different, with another 7.5% increase already scheduled for January.

Last year, Foothill carved a full-time staff position out of its annual budget and deferred infrastructure improvements in order to absorb the cost of a similar Metropolitan rate hike at the beginning of 2011.

Though Foothill’s recently approved 2011-2012 budget leaves much of those austerity measures in effect, Executive Director Nina Jazmadarian said the agency has no choice this time but to pass on the 2012 Metropolitan fee increase to local water retailers.

And although retail water agency boards have yet to determine how they will respond to Metropolitan rate hikes, the most likely outcome is that customers will foot all, or most of, the bill, said La Cañada Irrigation District General Manager Doug Caister.

“That’s basically the only way we can survive,” Caister said of his agency. “We buy over 90% of our water from Metropolitan through Foothill, and so whatever [charges] they pass on to us, we have to pass on to the consumer.”

Valley Water Company General Manager Bob Fan, whose agency imports 75% of its water, also said Metropolitan rate increases could result in higher water bills if Valley Water’s board sees no other option.

Crescenta Valley Water District, which serves parts of the city’s west end, has already announced rate increased of up to 25% over the next five years to accommodate Metropolitan rate increases while repairing aging infrastructure.

Metropolitan has increased its rates by 5.8% to 19.7% each year since 2007 for several reasons, including court-ordered pumping restrictions, increased costs of pumping and upkeep of the state water project, said spokesman Armando Acuno.

While those problems aren’t likely to evaporate anytime soon, La Cañada Flintridge isn’t necessarily forever at the mercy of increasingly scarce and expensive imported water.

In addition to its scaled-back budget, Foothill is maintaining reserves for the possible construction of a local water treatment plant that would partially wean the area off of imported water by diverting treated wastewater back into underground reservoirs, where it can be re-tapped as local supply.

Under study this year for possible construction in 2013 and completion by 2015, the treatment plant would generate 250,000 gallons of water per day — enough to serve approximately 1,250 homes, said Jazmadarian.

In terms of customer’s wallets, that would be a savings of at least $374,000 per year, according to projections.

And with grant money covering all but $1.75 million of the project’s more than $3 million price tag, the plant would quickly pay for itself, Jazmadarian said.

“This will help us reduce dependence on imported water — but it’s not just water, its energy as well,” she said. Foothill also would avoid significant electricity costs involved in pumping Metropolitan water uphill into La Cañada from a Metropolitan water delivery point near the Rose Bowl. “Pumping water up into the Foothills just costs so much,” Jazmadarian said.


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