By Deb Murphy
Last month Inyo County’s Board of Supervisors pulled what looked like a simple item from its consent agenda, rescheduling it until this Tuesday’s meeting. The item: hiring a consultant to conduct a water rate study for the three water systems owned by Inyo.
But, anything concerned with water in this valley is never simple.
Independence resident Mary Roper addressed the board October 17, questioning how far the $30,000 consultant contract could go to fix the aging systems in Indy, Laws and Lone Pine. She also brought her water bills from the system operator, Wilder-Barton, showing a five month gap between invoices.
The underlying issue, though, is Roper’s concern that a rate increase could fly in the face of the mitigation agreements between Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and Inyo County. The community water systems, she said, were turned over to the county to help mitigate for LADWP’s pumping for the second barrel of the aqueduct in 1970. “The rates were set artificially low so people could water their trees after the water table dropped 50-feet,” she said. Mitigation isn’t supposed to do harm and higher rates, Roper maintains, could discourage the whole purpose of the agreement.
Indy’s water system history closely parallels the general Inyo vs LADWP battles over the last 40 years, starting with the department condemning the Independence Water Company in 1972. The department transferred ownership to the county through a five-year lease/purchase arrangement in 2002.
However, Inyo’s Public Works Director said the county has a different interpretation of the Long Term Water Agreement. The mitigation, Clint Quilter said, is free water. The billing from the system operator covers, or is supposed to cover, the cost of distributing the free water.
Parts of that distribution system are 100 years old, Quilter said. As is, the water systems don’t generate enough money to be run properly.
Current water rates were last set in 2005, including $7.18 per user monthly for a capital reserve fund. As for the lapse in billing, Quilter said the county is working on that.
Approval of the sole-source contract, Raftelis Financial Consultants, to study water rates is set for 1:15 in the Supervisor’s Chambers this Tuesday.