James Hunter

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Is SJWC discriminating against ratepayers that are "homeowners or renters with water meters"


The current filing that SJWC has made and was approved by CPUC may be discriminating against a class of ratepayers. Who is this "class" and how did SJWC, the Division of Water & Audit (CPUC) and the CPUC Commissioners discriminate against them.

This class has an unfair and likely discriminatory economic burden placed on  residences (homeowners and renters paying the SJWC water bills) and have a SJWC water meter.

This is economic discrimination, they are the low hanging fruit on the money tree! There's a meter on their water line and they are trapped by an effective monopoly. Easier to squeeze them than other classes of customers.

Let's look at the distribution of water, in the state of California, think of this as a lesson in "trickle" down water economics.

100% of California water is basically split 50% to maintaining the environment and endangered species (the Delta Smelt, salmon, etc.) half the water is controlled by the Federal Government and has a lot of special interest groups like the Sierra Club supporting it. 

The other 50% goes to other uses, 40% (usually talked about as 80% in error) of the total available water, has gone to agriculture and 10% (only really 10%) to cities. 

We're seeing significant reductions in the water allocations to agriculture, allocations come from State Water Project, the Central Valley Project and local water companies. Based on California water law there are several classes of water rights, dating to the days the spanish built missions. Recently the state has begun to restrict rights to use water that farmers have held 1914 (riparian rights) and lately since 1903. The response it's "drill baby drill" in the central valley, as the farmers use more groundwater and drill deeper wells and areas have ground subsidence of 30 feet or more. (Note: The water allocations come from State Water Project, the Central Valley Project and local water companies.)

So we're now at the 10%, breaking down the 10% (ignoring the disparity between Norcal and Socal) 60% (or 6% of the total water) goes to homeowners and 40% (or 4% of the water) goes to industrial, consumer and multi-tenant housing (apartments). 

Gov. Brown in an Executive Order announced a mandatory 25% reduction in water use, the CA State Board of Water Resources then created a list of levels of conservation, nine steps between 4% and 36% required reductions. SJWC and the City of San Jose municipal water received required reductions of 20%.  

The State Water Board then directed the water utilities public utilities (SJWC, through CPUC. Division of Water & Audit) and municipal utilities (City of San Jose Water), to submit a rule 14.1 tariff and rules, defining the rules water customers should abide by. It also include drought allocations, based on the nine levels of reductions. In it was the requirement for a public hearing, it was also handled as an Advise Letter which is normally used for non-confrontational issues. This allowed a fast implementation since the limited time 20 days to file an appeal or complaint, little time for ratepayers to understand the issues and implications.

Still with me? Another way to look at this is the 6% (of the 100% of the available water) going to homeowners and renters with water meters is bearing all the burden of the reduction in water under the schedule and tariff submitted by SJWC and approved by CPUC, DWA.

Since SJWC choose to exempt industrial, consumer and multi-tenant housing (apartments) and they do not want to pay the Governor's $10,000 fine if the reduction of water use is not achieved, it was apparently easier to increase the reduction, in water allocation for homeowners and renters with water meters to 30%, that makes up for the excluded classes that they exempted from the rationing. 

SJWC responded that the "metered" landscape services for apartments would not be excluded. Sounds fair but they provided no numbers, how many? Many of the apartment complexes have several hundred apartments and a very small amount of landscape per apartment, no efforts was made to identify how much turf would each resident have? Is this another leaky excuse?

While ground subsidence is an ongoing issue this may have been a convenient explanation for the increase to 30%, from 20% drought reduction. Rather the more likely reason is that SCVWD who doesn't sell water to ratepayers, provided a valid issue to base the change on.

During the Public Hearing a SJWC speaker noted that, " He further mentioned that there has already been a 17 foot drop in groundwater during the last year (subsidence) and that it would take up to 300% of normal rainfall to retreat from the drought. ". The 17 feet of ground water doesn't mean a 17 foot ground drop nor does a 300% of normal rainfall mean it would be restored. Water is both percolated and pumped into the aquifer. This would appear to be a bit misleading and may be another leaky excuse.

This is a case of "Discrimination", not by race, color or religion, but  an identified group or class with unique characteristics.
  • ratepayers and are
  • homeowners or renters with
  • individual residence water meters

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