SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – California Gov. Jerry Brown called for an overhaul in water pricing as part of his sweeping drought order, and regulators on Wednesday will discuss how to best do that in light of legal questions over rates designed to encourage conservation.
The State Water Resources Control Board scheduled a workshop to discuss what the state’s role is in tinkering with local water rates to maximize water savings during the state’s historic four year dry spell.
The board, acting on Brown’s April executive order, has already ordered communities to slash water use as much as 36 percent to extend supplies if the drought continues. The governor also called on state agencies to direct private and public water suppliers to develop pricing mechanisms that could also include penalties and fees.
The state generally stays out of local water prices, which vary widely across the state depending on the source of water and political pressure.
“We have to maintain the solvency of water agencies, send strong price signals and maintain affordability for low-income households,” said Max Gomberg, a senior scientist with the water board.
Two-thirds of water districts use some form of tiered water pricing to encourage conservation by charging the heaviest users more. That tactic was thrown into question earlier this year after a court struck down punitive rates in the Orange County city of San Juan Capistrano.
The 4th District Court of Appeal said charging heavy users incrementally more per gallon without showing it cost more violated a 1996 voter-approved law that prohibits government agencies from overcharging for services.
The board could order agencies to report how they charge customers for water, but sweeping changes to water bills would likely require legislative action.
Some local governments are also increasing water rates to recoup what’s expected to be $1 billion in lost revenue because customers aren’t buying water when they conserve.
Copyright 2015 The Associated Press.