When they signed off on the Water Agreement in 1997, the Inyo Supervisors promised to keep water rates low so that residents of Southern Inyo could keep their trees alive. Now a different group of supervisors, tangled in decisions of the past, appears to be ready to break that promise.
At the Inyo Supervisors meeting this week, a discussion of the history of the water systems in Lone Pine, Independence, and Laws turned into a heated argument over what should have been vs. what actually has happened. The real purpose of the discussions was not stated, but citizens said they think that the Board wants to raise water rates.
Former Water Director and Attorney Greg James explained that as part of the Long Term Water Agreement with the City of Los Angeles, the County took over control of three town water systems. Water rates were left cheap.
Public Works Director Ron Chegwidden explained that rates and service fees have gone up from about $2 a month in the 80s to $4.08 in 1998. Service fees were then boosted to $22 when changes were made in 2005. A useage fee is charged on top of that.
Without formally saying so, the Supervisors appeared to be looking for ways to pay to keep the water systems running, which could include raising water rates.
Lone Pine resident Joe Ruiz explained that the whole point of cheap water in the Long Term Water Agreement was so that residents of the Owens Valley could water their trees and plants that could no longer reach the water table that had been drawn down by DWPs groundwater pumping.
Supervisor Richard Cervantes clearly agreed with this view. He said the situation in Lone Pine was disturbing, and described dead and dying trees in areas that used to be green. He said raising water rates would fly in the face of the water agreement which was supposed to mitigate past damages.
The other four supervisors appeared more concerned with future finances than past promises. Supervisor Jim Bilyeu said that the question is how to pay for systems that cost more than they take in. Supervisor Linda Arcularius said that the money will have to come from the general fund and would involve cuts in county services.
On the question of how to pay for the water systems without raising rates, Joe Ruiz told the board, thats part of your burden.
More discussions on the water systems and possible rate hikes for Lone Pine, Independence, and Laws are scheduled for future board meetings. Well keep you posted.