Riverside judge dismisses challenge to WMWD water rate structure; a victory for customers who use water efficiently

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RIVERSIDE – Western Municipal Water District, which provides water to Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District and Rancho California Water District in southwest Riverside County, won a court challenge from two excessive water users to share their higher costs with those who efficiently conserve their water usage and save on their water bills.

Craig Miller, Western’s general manager said that Friday, Sept. 13, a Riverside Superior Superior Court judge dismissed a legal challenge against Western Municipal Water District’s water rate structure.

“This is a good day for Western’s retail water customers – more than 85% of whom conserve water, keeping their monthly water costs as low as possible,” Miller said. “Had Western lost this challenge, customers who proactively stay within their monthly water allocation would have seen an increase in monthly water bills to offset the excess use of other customers.”

In a WMWD news release, the water district said the ruling was a victory for customers who use water efficiently, conserve a limited resource and help Western achieve statewide water management goals in a very arid region.

Superior Court Judge Daniel A. Ottolia ruled that Western’s budget-based rates are compliant with the state constitution and Proposition 218 and that the rates satisfy the state’s requirements that agencies implement measures to conserve California’s water resources.

In April 2018, two petitioners from one Riverside-area home filed a petition for a writ of mandate, asking the Riverside County court to invalidate Western’s water budget rate structure. The petitioners alleged that Western’s rates violate Proposition 218, the 1996 statewide ballot measure that prevents water providers and other utilities from charging more for a water service than the costs incurred to provide that service.

Under Western’s rate structure, customers who stay within their water budgets pay the lowest rates in Tiers 1 and 2, while those who use water inefficiently, wastefully or unsustainably pay more based on higher costs of service incurred by Western in Tiers 3 through 5.

Western’s five-tier rate structure for indoor, outdoor, inefficient, wasteful and unsustainable water use is based on decades of research into the water needs of people, plants and animals. Western’s 2017 rate study considered Proposition 218, state legislators’ authorization of tiered rates and other California court cases affirming that Proposition 218 allows tiered rate structures.

The higher rates in Western’s Tiers 3, 4 and 5 link directly to higher costs of service as wasteful water users drive higher costs by requiring the district to acquire additional more expensive water, invest in capital improvements to expand water supplies and operate water efficiency programs to comply with California laws on water conservation.

These additional costs are not included in the rates charged in Tiers 1 and 2 for those who work to conserve water.

Miller said that because of Western’s water budgets and the allocation of lower-cost local water supplies to indoor water use customers in the city and districts they serve will continue to pay the lowest possible rate for water used for drinking, cooking, bathing and indoor cleaning.

Western Municipal Water District is one of the major suppliers of water to Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District and Rancho California Water District that serve the cities of Temecula, Murrieta, Lake Elsinore and Wildomar along with other Riverside County water districts in Corona, Norco, Riverside, Home Gardens, Jurupa Community, Temescal Valley, Riverside Highland and Rubidoux.

Adjacent Eastern Municipal Water District serves all or portions of Hemet, San Jacinto, Moreno Valley, Perris and some of Murrieta, Temecula and Canyon Lake.

Metropolitan Water District supplies supplemental water to Western and Eastern water districts and to many Los Angeles regional member agencies with its many reservoirs that store water from Northern California and the Colorado River when needed.