• BREAKING NEWS ABC shows live and on-demand -- Download the WATCH ABC app!

Ongoing repairs likely to continue water rate hikes for years

March 8, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
More rate hikes are looming for the Metropolitan Water District, a major supplier of water for Southern California. The agency says expensive repairs to the Colorado River Aqueduct are a big reason for the rate increases.

There are nearly 250 miles of aqueduct carrying water belonging to the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California to 19 million Californians.

Californians have seen nine rate increases in nine years. After a vote next week, they can expect to see two more MWD water-rate increases.

Eyewitness News visited the Hinds Pumping Plant to meet MWD General Manager Jeffrey Kightlinger. He wanted to tell their side of the story about rates.

Pump plants have been shut down to allow three weeks of repairs and updates.

"The last five years have been hard. We've had to do a lot of catch-up," said Kightlinger. "We basically started shutting down our system in 2003 and really taking a hard look at it."

The MWD stores water in reservoirs like Diamond Valley Lake so that it can boost reserves during the shutdown. Customers shouldn't see any effect on their water supply, but it will affect their water bills. MWD supplies water to most of Southern California's water utilities.

In the last seven years they've replaced 60 miles of concrete. Now they are replacing all the electrical wiring. It's a never-ending battle, and an expensive one.

In 1990 MWD spent $30 million on repairs and replacement work. Twenty years later it's $175 million annually, seven times more costly than it was two decades ago.

According to the MWD, 20 years ago it cost the typical homeowner $30 per month for maintenance and repair of the water system. It's now closer to $50 per month. MWD says about half the increase is due to the increased cost of water.

"An 80-year-old system from the Colorado River, a 50-year-old system from Northern California: We have a lot of catch-up and a lot of repair work to do," said Kightlinger. "If we don't do the repair work eventually things are going to break on their own, and when they break on their own then we're out for months at a time and we won't have any water to serve at all."

The San Diego County Water Authority in a statement said that maintaining the system is not the reason water rates have been going up. The statement says: "MWD's water sales have decreased by about 33 percent since 2007, but spending is still going up. It's time for MWD to get serious and reduce spending to reflect its sharply lower water sales."

Metropolitan Water District says the costs of providing water keep going up. Concrete wears out, as does steel. Electrical circuits fail if they are not replaced. The MWD board will vote next week on two years of rate increases to help pay for repairs.

And MWD's general manager doesn't believe we will soon see an end to rate-hike requests.