La Cañada Flintridge residents will see a 5% increase in their water bills next year.
The hike approved by the Foothill Municipal Water District June 18 is not being spurred by the dry winter, though that has water watchers worried. Instead, it's a result of Foothill's need to upgrade infrastructure and keep pace with increases from its main supplier, the Metropolitan Water District.
Nina Jazmadarian, Foothill Municipal Water District's general manager, said the district tapped financial reserves to replace standby electrical generators used in emergencies this year. But it has other projects to complete, and could not absorb all of a 5% increase in rates that Metropolitan imposed in 2011.
Jazmadarian said she is looking to the sky for clues as to whether rates will need to go up again after the winter of 2012-13.
“We'll keep our fingers crossed that this coming winter is wet so that we can continue to have a strong water supply [and] keep rates steady,” she said.
The district provides water to Crescenta Valley Water, La Cañada Irrigation District, Mesa Crest Water Company and Valley Water Company — which serve various La Cañada residents — as well as to Lincoln Avenue Company, Las Flores Water Company and Rubio Cañon Land & Water Assn.
Like other agencies, it benefited this year from a fairly strong snowpack in 2010-11, which helped the State Water Project. Big rains in Southern California also refreshed the local groundwater supply.
But this winter was well below average, both in La Cañada and around the state.
Bill Patzert, a climatologist at Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said that during the 2010-11 rainfall year, which runs from July 1 to June 30, JPL recorded around 32 inches of rain, well above the average of 18 inches. That figure includes a Christmas-week deluge that provided much of the annual total.
But JPL has recorded only 13.5 inches of rain with one week left in the 2011-12 season.
Patzert said the upcoming winter isn't looking like a dry La Niña season or a wet El Niño.
“Right now we're in what I'm fond of calling a ‘La Nada' — it's not one or the other” he said. “It has all the so-called experts scratching their head.”
Patzert said the last two “La Nada” seasons, in 2004-05 and 2006-7, were both extreme — only at opposite ends of the spectrum.
“2004-5 was a near record-breaking winter in terms of rainfall, and that was a ‘La Nada,'” Patzert said. “ But 2006-7, that was the driest ever, and it was ‘La Nada,' as well.”
Patzert said the water district is in a tricky spot.
“If they figure they're good for this winter, that's great,” he said. “The tale will be told when the rains begin in October and November. Between now and then, there's no relief.”