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One of the fundamental tenets of life is that ‘you can’t get something for nothing.’ It’s a basic rule that everyone learns in kindergarten and most people adhere. It sets the parameters for how we conduct business. Unfortunately, there are always some challenges to this timeless adage, even at the literal expense of others, including neighbors.
Last week, the Water Replenishment District of Southern California (WRD) sought a court injunction to prevent a handful of local cities from further pumping groundwater because they have refused to pay their water bills, some for up to 10 consecutive months, and they now owe more than $5.3 million. The consequence of their withholding payment has shifted the financial burden of sustaining the region’s groundwater supply to the remaining paying cities from WRD’s service area that includes 43 cities and nearly 4 million residents. Without WRD maintaining the local groundwater supply, these 43 cities in southeast Los Angeles County would be forced to purchase imported water that is 3-4 times more expensive than groundwater.
One councilman in the City of Downey, Mario Guerra, recently stated publicly that his city will not pay the bills they owe because his city is among those challenging the process by which water rates were set as not purportedly complying with Prop 218. However, in written publications, the California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office has referred to the way Prop 218 applies to water assessments as a gray area. So instead of waiting for a final resolution from the courts, these handful of cities have snubbed case law and taken matters into their own hands by refusing to pay their bills. In fact, Mr. Guerra’s political spin is demanding that all money for which they purchased water dating back to 2006 be returned. Mr. Guerra is demanding something for nothing.
Ironically, the cities of Downey, Cerritos and Signal Hill have continued to collect money from customers in their respective cities despite their calculated decision to withhold payment to WRD for the very same water they use for everyday life. In fact, these cities have even turned off the water on customers for failure to pay their water bills. So should these cities be treated any differently than the way in which they treat their own customers? Moreover, should these cities be allowed to threaten the water supply for nearly 4 million people?
WRD believes these cities should not be treated any differently than anyone else. Consequently, after months of amicable requests to make payment on their respective water bills, WRD exercised its remaining enforcement remedies, as defined in the California Water Code ¬ß60339, that allows WRD to file for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against further pumping for any operator delinquent in the payment of a replenishment assessment.
Of course, the cities will still have access to other sources of water and residents will still have flowing faucets. The big difference, however, is that it will be at a significant increase in the cost of water to customers who never stopped paying their fair share, because unlike these handful of cities, their respective customers know that you can’t get something for nothing.
Albert Robles is president of the Water Replenishment District of Southern California’s board of directors.
Published: March 01, 2012 – Volume 10 – Issue 46