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Blame it on the pressure of a mandated legislative state audit, a desire to sway public perception or to counter mounting negative press attention and scrutiny: Whatever the reason, the Central Basin Municipal Water District (CBMWD) is engaged in the unforgivable practice of stating and re-stating misinformation and manipulated facts in the hopes that someone, somewhere, will believe their fabricated public relations propaganda and ignore the truth about CBMWD.
In a press release sent out last week, the Board President of the Central Basin Municipal Water District stated "we [CBMWD] are proud to provide the lowest water rates in the region." The problem with that statement is not only that it is categorically false, but that it is completely opposite of the truth. Public records show that water rates for the CBMWD are the highest in the Southeast region. Characterizing the highest water rates in the region as the "the most affordable" is an example of the double-speak used by CBMWD to make things appear to be true when they are not.
Just to be certain that the statement wasn't missed by the public, CBMWD's General Manager, reiterated the falsehood in a published opinion editorial last week, thereby verifying CBMWD's clear intent to purposefully misinform the public. Unfortunately for them, repeating an untruth over and over will not make it true, it only erodes CBMWD's credibility and the public's trust.
CBMWD deceptively reported that their rates are $90/acre-foot when, in fact, their rates are $915/acre-foot - more than 10-times the reported rate. The $90/acre-foot is only their surcharge. To put this $90/acre-foot surcharge into better perspective, in Orange County under identical circumstances, a water district there only charges a $4.50/acre foot surcharge. Over the course of just one-year, this difference adds up to millions and millions of dollars that water ratepayers in CBMWD's service area are charged! [One acre-foot is enough water for 2 families of four for an entire year.]
In the same press release last week, the CBMWD also tried to portray itself as the public advocate for "justice on behalf of ratepayers" and challenged other water agencies to freeze proposed rate increases for the upcoming year. However, only one week earlier, two CBMWD board members publicly voted in favor of a rate increase by the same agency they now call on to freeze rates. In fact, the two CBMWD board members voted against a proposed smaller rate increase, instead voting for a rate level that was almost double the lower alternative. Perhaps they were hoping the public would remain unaware of their duplicitous actions.
Moreover, this "pledge to freeze rates" by Central Basin Municipal Water District is another way to simply hide the truth about their past actions. CBMWD has increased its surcharge rates by 543% since 2002, with a 105% increase between 2009 and 2011 alone. At first glance, the pledge to freeze its rates may appear to be a model of worthy self-sacrifice, but the offer to freeze rates that are much too high in the first place is, in truth, nothing but an empty, self-serving gesture.
The Central Basin Municipal Water District's manipulation of the public is not recent. Last fall, the Los Angeles Times exposed the Central Basin Municipal Water District for hiring a public relations firm to make up and publish positive news stories. The LA Times investigation showed that the published stories were written by phantom reporters working for fake news services and distributed online to legitimate news outlets. To make matters worse, the cost to produce and publish these made up stories came at the public's expense.
Furthermore, less than two weeks ago, the LA Times reported that the L.A. County District Attorney is investigating a CBMWD board member in a money laundering scheme. This probe follows yet another investigation currently underway by the District Attorney into the misappropriation of public funds by CBMWD directors.
Regardless of the pressure from ratepayers questioning water rates or state auditors examining accounts, intentionally misinforming and misleading the public about important public policy matters is not just unethical, it is unacceptable. The Central Basin Municipal Water District is an out-of-control agency that has become a laughingstock in the state and regional water community. Ratepayers and voters deserve straightforward honest answers. It's never okay to manipulate the truth.
Albert Robles is general manager of the Water Replenishment District of Southern California.
Published: May 03, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 03