Inyo Supervisors Inherit Water Rates

With little control over the cause, the Inyo Supervisors
have inherited the responsibility to find a solution to issues surrounding the
water systems in Independence,
Laws, and Lone Pine.

The water
systems dont bring much money to county coffers, barely enough to stay afloat,
but past promises used to sell the water agreement put the county on the hook
to keep rates low as mitigation for groundwater pumping.

As part of the Long Term Water Agreement, Inyo County
took over operations of the water systems and DWP agreed to provide a set
amount of free water to the three towns.

Despite a service fee
hike from about $4.00 a month 1998 to $22.00 in 2005, Public Works Director Ron
Chegwidden reports that the water systems are expected to break even this year.
With the three systems costing about $380,000 to operate per year, Chegwidden
says that there is barely enough money to operate and little money for capital
improvements if something breaks or needs an upgrade. He also says that there
may not be enough money to operate the systems next year.

What work
needs to be done, and what will break in the future is a moving target. The
county took ownership of the water systems in 2005 and so far there is no capital
needs assessment.

How much money
is needed to keep water fees even where they are is not known. Chegwidden says
that the county may hire a consultant to look at rates and capital needs.

The problem
that the county has to contend with is that the amount people pay for water in
Laws, Independence and Lone Pine was supposed to stay low so that people could
water their lawns and property as the ground underneath dried out.

The deal as
written in the EIR states that DWP pumps the water for the towns for free up to
a set amount so that the county has the option of maintaining water rates at a
level of sustainability below the rates that would have to be charged if all
the costs of pumping were to be passed along to the users.

The transfer
of the town water systems thus will mitigate for the long term reduction in
water available in the soil in these towns since residents will have the option
of supplying water to vegetation in the towns at a lower cost than if the
systems remained under the ownership and operation of Los Angeles.

Whether the
supervisors decide to pass the costs on to the rate payers in Independence, Lone Pine, and Laws or work out
a way to subsidize the water is yet to be seen.

 
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