The Tesoro Corporation refinery in Wilmington stopped paying water assessment fees three months ago, according to the Water Replenishment District of Southern California. Thousands of acre-feet of water are needed to operate the plant. However, unlike a public utility, the WRD cannot shut off the supply.
Tesoro, like 43 communities in Los Angeles County, has its own pumps. It draws the water directly from aquifers, a natural underground reservoir. When an aquifer gets low on water, the fees paid to the WRD are used to buy it from outside sources.
Tesoro claims the WRD's process for assessing fees violated the state Constitution. A tentative ruling in Superior Court supports Tesoro.
"As a result, Tesoro ceased paying such assessments pending conclusion of the litigation appellate process," a Tesoro spokesman said in a statement.
Albert Robles, the board president of the WRD, said the company should continue to pay its bill as the courts figure it out.
"It is time for Tesoro to be a responsible neighbor and pay their water bill," Robles said.
Protesters against Tesoro include the city of South Gate. Residents pay the WRD $180,000 per month to ensure the underground supply is replenished.
"If it is not there, we have to pump from a greater depth and eventually we would suck the aquifer dry and that would be bad," said South Gate Mayor Bill De Witt.
The WRD is seeking an injunction, demanding that Tesoro pay or stop pumping. There's worry that matters will get worse if the company takes over the nearby BP refinery and stops payment there, increasing the drain on WRD funds.
The matter goes to court in January. WRD estimates Tesoro will be nearly $1 million behind in its payments.