East L.A. residents may not take water for granted after proposed 27% rate hike

Photo by cjdjkope/flickr

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


  1. No mention of the union’s pension funds and employee raises affecting the hikes? Call me a skeptic but every time the DWP hikes the rates, little goes towards new pipes… mostly down the compensation drain.

    • DWP, which serves the City of Los Angeles, and Cal Water, which serves unincorporated East L.A., are separate agencies with separate staffs.

      • Thank you, EastsiderLA, for making that distinction. As soon as I read the headline, I went straight to the comments to find the DWP bashing, as sure enough, there it was, right on top. Clueless, indeed.

        • Oh Steve. You are so original! I mean to use my moniker in your oh-so-clever quip! Well, I’ve just never seen THAT before….

          You should write for the Daily Show w/John Stewart!

      • I gathered that they are separate entities from the article. I’m referencing DWP for the sake of comparing their known hike agenda(s). Still, I find it unusual to find no mention of money being funneled towards salaries or pension funds. Are they hiding this? …was it not publicly published? Surely some of that hike is going towards compensation. It would be nice to have that specific information be public as people are more likely to be motivated to act (to reject) a hike if they knew they were funding a fat pension versus needed improvements to infrastructure.

        I’d bet dollars to dough nuts that there would be more than a “hand full of people” show up then…

    • DWP is sure laying a ton of pipes from Griffith Park to Silver Lake Reservoir. We’re going on 2 years of torn up streets and the obnoxious & constant “beep beep beep beep beep” of the machinery.

      • It is getting soooooooo old! I mean when they did Glendale and Riverside they didn’t even repave the jacked up corner. The flag man on Rowena are on drugs most of the morning as they decide to stop the traffic at peak times. Silver Lake has been a pain in the rear for 2 years. Griffith was torn up for almost 2 years on the one stretch. The other cool thing is no matter what time you go buy there will ALWAYS be someone standing around.

  2. Don’t fall for that hike .That’s what they r paid to do improve n make things better ,it shouldn’t cost the citizens a dime for fixtures,they need to keep it real n tell the truth the hike will pay for promotions n Raises not to mention their bonuses.Sounds more like a Christmas bonus scheme.EastLos luv 4m the West…peace

  3. A 27% increase sounds like a lot. But as homeowners know, there are times you need to sink $$ into upgraded and repairs. I would want to know how their rates (existing and proposed) compare with those of the DWP, Pasadena Water & Power, etc. Most of our water is very cheap, which makes it too easy to waste.

    That said, if this were the LA DWP, well, they do seem pretty darn corrupt with unusually high salaries compared to just about anyone else.

  4. Realizing it’s sometimes difficult to make direct comparisons, wondering how water rates in ELA will compare with the City when this goes through.

  5. ELA’s water is currently more expensive and after the increases it will be even higher. LA’s city’s rates are lower than most all of the surrounding communities.



  6. Thanks. Does make you wonder why.

  7. LA’s are low because they own their own water resources and own their own power plants. Other communities have to buy theirs then they sell it to customers at a mark up.

  8. what in this world is not getting more expensive?
    welcome to the modern age of capitalism

  9. Cal Water is holding a Public Health Goals meeting today at 6 PM on East L.A. water quality:

    2000 S. Tubeway, Commerce, CA 90040.

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