By C.J. Salgado
We usually don’t think much about the tap water in our homes, except when maybe we water our lawns or notice a mysterious spike in our water bill. We’re only mindful then because our lawn is looking rather brown or because we’re going to have to pay the plumber to fix that leak. But a proposal for a large hike in East Los Angeles water rates, in part to improve water quality and safety, may grab the attention of more water users.
Earlier this week a few folks made it over to a Water Rates Workshop hosted by Cal Water Service Company, which supplies water to unincorporated East L.A., to hear “about proposed water system improvements and our recent request for a rate increase…” If approved by state regulators, water rates would jump 27% over a three-year period beginning January 1, 2014, for about 150,000 customers in Cal Water’s East Los Angeles District, which services primarily East Los Angeles, but also some neighboring communities.
This meeting presented a great chance for attendees to think about those not-so-obvious reasons to care about the water in our homes. For one thing, we faithfully pay our water bill each month without really knowing what we’re paying for and why we should have to pay even more given the rate increase proposal. Secondly, there is also, perhaps even more importantly, the issue of water quality.
Cal Water has been serving the East Los Angeles’ District’s water needs since 1928, currently done by some 50 local employees who oversee 272 miles of pipeline carrying water pumped from local wells or purchased from the Metropolitan Water District . Of course, conducting such water operations requires technical expertise and specialized infrastructure. So, Cal Water is requesting the rate increase to accurately cover the cost of providing water service. Aging water mains need replacement, new wells need to be built, and existing wells need treatment systems to improve water quality, for example.
As for water quality, Cal Water publications state that it “is committed to providing a reliable, high-quality water supply.” and that within the East Los Angeles district, “your water met or surpassed all primary water quality standards..”However, there has been one particular issue raised in recent years with regard to a contaminant called “manganese” found in some local well water which has at times exceeded the “secondary standard.”
Although that secondary standard is meant to address non-safety aspects of water like staining, a growing body of scientific research points to manganese being a neurological toxin. That is, it messes with brain/spinal functions, e.g., can lead to developmental problems in children under certain exposure scenarios. (More details about this in EGP News.)
True, Cal Water has taken positive steps to address manganese concerns by building manganese treatment systems to remove the manganese from local well water. One well, however, still has this issue and Cal Water plans to take it out of service next year when a new well is completed together with its treatment system. Such upgraded wells, of course, are expensive, costing tens of million dollars.
One gentleman at Monday nights rate workshop, however, was adamantly “not convinced” by Cal Water’s justifications for the proposed rate increase because his monthly water bill already “went from $30 to $100 in two years,”he said. “There’s something wrong!”
Given the overall continuing woes from the economic recession and, more specifically, the higher than average unemployment and poverty rates in East L.A., a cumulative 27% hike in water rates have a very real impact on this community.
What’s next in the process for this general rate increase for water? In early 2013, the California Public Utilities Commission will hold a public participation hearing. The date is not set yet, but Cal Water is trying to schedule a hearing within the East L.A. district if possible.
Sadly, fewer than a handful of the 150,000 local residents served by Cal Water turned up at Monday’s meeting. Hopefully, more will plan to attend the upcoming CPUC’s public meeting to voice any concerns or support on the proposed rate increase and relevant water quality issues. After all, it’s obvious, we’re paying for what we’re drinking, right?
C.J. Salgado is an East L.A. resident