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L. A. water bills set to rise--but how much? DWP seeks advice

July 20, 2011 |  2:38 pm

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is hosting a webinar to help L.A. residents better understand future rate increases under two scenarios for the city's water infrastructure.

The webinar for residential customers, set for 6:00 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, is expected to feature live presentations by LADWP General Manager Ronald O. Nichols and other water and power executives, followed by a question-and-answer session and comment period.

One of the two scenarios being considered by the DWP to maintain the flow of water in L.A. would pay for only the "bare basics" of what the city needs, said James McDaniel, DWP's senior assistant general manager for water.

"It's stuff we absolutely have to have to meet our basic requirements, stripping out anything that isn't critical to keeping the lights on and the water flowing," he said.

Under this "basic business needs" scenario, a typical L.A. household's monthly water bill would go up $2.24 this year and in each of the following two years -- for a total increase of $6.72, or 15.3%.

The second scenario incorporates strategic investments, including accelerating the planned replacement of the 7,200 miles of drinking water pipes DWP oversees, increasing the use of recycled water for irrigation and industrial purposes, diverting additional stormwater to replenish the local groundwater supply and continuing residential rebate programs for low-flow toilets, high-efficiency laundry machines and rain gardens.

The strategic investment scenario would also fast-track as much as possible the cleanup of the San Fernando Valley groundwater basin, which was contaminated decades ago by various industries and is significantly reducing available groundwater each year. 

Under the strategic scenario, a typical L.A. household would see its monthly water bill go up by $2.25, or 4.8%, over three years -- on top of the $6.72 in increases to pay for basic needs.

The DWP, which says its new rates need to be approved by Nov. 1, is seeking public input because "it behooves us as a department to tell everybody what needs to be done," McDaniel said. 

The agency delivers more than 45 million gallons of water to the city each day. About half of the water used by the city is purchased from the Metropolitan Water District; just 1% is recycled. Under the strategic investment scenario, the amount of water purchased from the water district would be reduced to 24%; conservation would increase to 9%, recycled water to 8% and stormwater capture to 4% of the water supply by 2035.

At 117 gallons, "L.A. has the lowest per-capita water use per day of any big city in the country," said McDaniel. "We're very proud of that, but in Europe and Australia, there's some very developed civilized cities and countries with significantly lower water use. I think there's still room for us to make improvements on that, but it's a matter of investing."


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-- Susan Carpenter

Photo: Stormwater bursts through valves into the L.A. River. Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times