Downey considers response to letter from water group

DOWNEY - Downey officials are considering the best way to respond to a strongly-worded letter from the Central Basin Water Association that chastises Downey for withholding $7.1 million in payments to the Water Replenishment District due to a dispute over rate increases. The cities of Downey, Cerritos, Signal Hill, Pico Rivera and Bellflower have withheld payment to the WRD for more than two years, claiming the water district illegally raised its assessments without the required studies to justify the rate hikes.

A judge ruled in favor of the five cities, and Downey officials indicated a refund could be forthcoming. The matter is still in the courts.

In the meantime, Downey has paid its water assessments into an escrow account.

The letter from the Central Basin Water Association is addressed to Mayor Mario Guerra and accuses Downey of putting the groundwater basin at risk.

"Your unwillingness to take responsibility to pay to replace the water you pump threatens the long-term sustainability of a resource on which millions of consumers and thousands of [businesses] and jobs depend," the letter states. "Your failure to cooperate undermines the long-stand agreements that have made management of a shared water resource possible.

"You violate a fundamental trust. You pump but you do not pay."

The letter is signed by the Central Basin Water Association board of directors. Its president is James Glancy, director of water resources for the city of Lakewood.

At Tuesday's Downey city council meeting, Councilman Alex Saab called the letter "inappropriate" because the dispute is still in litigation. He directed staff to look into "the pros and cons, and costs," of belonging to the 44-member Central Basin Water Association.

Guerra made similar comments and said he was "appalled" by the letter. He claimed the letter was written "for political purposes."

"It's an embarrassment for them to write this letter to us," Guerra said. "The chairman should have known better."

WRD replenishes the groundwater from which cities rely on to supply drinking water to residents and businesses. The five cities have complained that WRD assessments are "excessive and illegal" and have been forced to pass on the overcharge to their consumers.

Downey officials estimated that that approximately 40% of the average residential water bill is made up of WRD's allegedly illegal assessment.