By Karen Brainard
Retaliation for a legal challenge is being blamed for the Metropolitan Water District’s (Met) June 14 decision to terminate an agreement that provided funding for a water recycling program in the Ramona Municipal Water District.
The agreement was one of three conservation programs in the San Diego region canceled by the Los Angeles-based water wholesaler, which is being sued by the San Diego County Water Authority.
The decision to cancel funding could possibly impact sewer rates for customers of the San Vicente Water Reclamation Plant, said Ramona Water District General Manager Ralph McIntosh.
“By having this money, it may have lessened the increase of a possible rate increase,” said McIntosh.
The water district is working on its fiscal year 2011-12 budget and is undergoing rate studies.
The water district’s agreement with Met, set up in early 2010 under the wholesaler’s Local Resources Program, was to provide $1.3 million over 20 years. The money, McIntosh said, basically reimburses the Ramona water district for a system installed at the San Vicente Water Reclamation Plant to recycle water. That water is being used by the San Vicente Golf Course for irrigation.
“It’s a water conservation measure,” explained McIntosh.
McIntosh said Ramona is the only member agency in the San Diego County Water Authority currently in the Local Resources Program. The objective of the program is to provide funding for the development of water recycling and groundwater recovery supplies that replace an existing demand or prevent a new demand on Met’s imported water supplies.
Last year, the Ramona water district received $14,000 from Met for the program, McIntosh said.
According to McIntosh, the agreement has a rate structure integrity provision. The provision, adopted by Met’s board in 2004, allows the wholesaler to terminate conservation or other local resources incentive agreements with a member agency that chooses to pursue legal challenges to Met’s existing rate structure outside of established public board processes.
McIntosh said he doesn’t see the Met’s benefit of terminating the agreement with Ramona and questioned whether it was due to the fact that he sits on the water authority’s board of directors and voted by proxy in favor of the lawsuit.
“It’s disappointing to see a large government agency take retaliation against us,” he said. “I think people in the region really need to get involved and see what’s going on at the Met’s level.”
The San Diego County Water Authority’s lawsuit alleges that the Met improperly overcharges the water authority for the transportation of water and uses that money to lower the cost of the Met’s water. The lawsuit is pending in Superior Court in San Francisco.
Metropolitan also canceled a $1.2 million agreement to fund low-water use landscape retrofits and training for homeowners and about $800,000 annually to support local programs that increase water use efficiency, such as turf removal incentives.
The Metropolitan board retained two agreements that provide funding for consumer and business rebates for water-efficient devices.
In a news release from the Metropolitan district, Board Chair John V. Foley stated, “The board voted to continue offering water-saving incentives in San Diego County, despite the water authority’s ongoing litigation against Metropolitan. The board’s action demonstrates Metropolitan’s commitment to meeting the statewide conservation goal of 20 percent by 2010, as outlined in the 2009 state legislation sponsored by Metropolitan.”