Court sides with cities in lawsuit against WRD

DOWNEY - The cities of Downey, Cerritos and Signal Hill were victorious in its joint lawsuit against the Water Replenishment District of Southern California, in which the three cities allege the WRD illegally raise water rates every year.Judge James Chalfant of Los Angeles Superior Court ruled on April 25 that replenishment assessments charged by the WRD on pumpers in the Central and West Coast Groundwater Basins are invalid, Downey officials announced in a news release. Chalfant ruled that WRD failed to comply with the requirements of Prop. 218, passed by voters in 1996, which requires a cost-benefit analysis to ensure that ratepayers are only being charged their fair share of costs. The WRD refused to conduct such analysis and imposes a uniform replenishment fee upon all pumpers within the Central and West Coast Basins that results in the Central Basin pumpers subsidizing the West Coast Basin pumpers, city officials said. In a statement, Downey officials also claimed the fees are excessive due to "WRD's unauthorized expenses, such as retirement parties, nonprofit organizations and other causes unrelated to replenishment of the Central Basin." The case now moves to a lower court for a determination of the cities' damages. Councilman Mario Guerra said Downey stands to recoup up to two-thirds of $15 million. "The ruling is a significant victory for the Cities' water customers who ultimately pay the replenishment assessment either directly or indirectly as part of their water bills," the city of Downey said in a statement. "The Cities will continue to press forward to ensure fair treatment by WRD in its imposition of the replenishment assessment." The WRD is expected to appeal the ruling. -Eric Pierce, city editor

********** Published: June 2, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 7