By James R. Riffel
City News Service
San Diegans will be paying 5.9 percent more for water beginning in March after the City Council agreed Monday to pass on an increase in wholesale water rates to customers.
The average resident will see a monthly hike of about $3.41 on their bills, according to the Public Utilities Department.
The city receives water from the San Diego County Water Authority which, in turn, takes water from the Metropolitan Water District. When the MWD raised its fees, the SDCWA passed on the charges to local water agencies.
In the case of the city of San Diego, the increase amounts to about $25 million in the 2011 calendar year, according to a city staff report.
"We're completely at the mercy of Metropolitan Water," said Councilwoman Lorie Zapf. "That's very, very troubling."
As part of a motion that passed 6-2, Zapf asked her colleagues to lobby state authorities for an audit of the MWD and establish an independent rate oversight committee for the agency.
Council members Carl DeMaio and Marti Emerald dissented, with DeMaio saying San Diego water officials have not made any structural reforms.
"It's like throwing good money after bad," DeMaio said.
Most public speakers spoke out against the increase. Senior citizens said higher water bills would make it even more difficult to live in San Diego on a fixed income.
Public Utilities Director Roger Bailey told council members his department could not absorb additional costs without delaying capital projects necessary to keep an old, large and complex water system functioning.
About one-quarter of the pipes, which break frequently, are over 50 years old, he said.
The SDCWA has sued the MWD, claiming it unfairly shoulders a larger burden of the agency's costs than it should, to the tune of about $35 million.