Tiered Water Rate Ruling Could Hurt Drought Fight

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SACRAMENTO-

A court ruling that struck down tiered water rates to save water in San Juan Capistrano will hurt drought fighting efforts, according to the Association of California Water Agencies.

"To us, it feels like a straight jacket," said Tim Quinn, Executive Director of the ACWA.

Quinn said he agrees with Gov. Jerry Brown that the ruling takes away a key strategy in getting water users to use less.

"One of our most powerful tools, that is the ability to use block-rate prices to get people to use less water, has been compromised as a result of this decision," Quinn said.

An Orange County appellate court said state law requires water rates be tied to the cost of delivering the water. The court ruled that San Juan Capistrano's higher rate for big water users was set arbitrarily.

That goes against common sense for some homeowners in the Sacramento area.

"That just makes perfect sense to me, if you're going to use water, then you should pay for it," said Elk Grove resident Mike Story.

But homeowner Matt Beeston agrees that state law should prevail.

"You really shouldn't be charged anything other than the services you're being provided, which is the water being delivered to your house," Beeston said.

Agencies such as the Sacramento County and Elk Grove Water agencies say their tiered rates are tied to the cost of delivery and unaffected by the court ruling.

But there are hundreds of others in the state that could be sued unless they rework their rate structure -- which could take a year or more.

The problem is that the state is requiring up to 36 percent water cutbacks or face $10,000 per day fines.

Those regulations could take effect in just a couple of weeks.

"We're in a Catch 22," Quinn said.