Water in Claremont is so expensive some residents are talking of moving elsewhere. Only Golden State Water Company can sell water to Claremont residents, and they have applied for a rate increase of over 23% for next year, with about 3% increases each of the following two years. Since GSWC is an investor-owned public utility, it is regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission which must approve any increase. Our community, including City government, has protested so vigorously that the PUC agreed to hold the required public hearing here in Claremont on Tuesday, December 6 (Taylor Hall, 2 and 6 p.m.). This is deja vu all over again. In 2002 about 400 irate Claremont citizens attended a similar local PUC hearing to protest a proposed 39% increase, and 11.5% was approved. Typically GSWC requests increases every three years, with a huge increase the first year. The PUC approves a smaller increase, often less than half that requested. California has established an independent Office of Ratepayer Advocates to review proposed increases. In 2005 when GSWC proposed a 26% increase the Office instead recommended a $660,500 revenue decrease. However, the PUC instead approved a 6.69% increase. (Such water issues are covered more thoroughly in Water Issues in the City of Claremont 2005, posted at www.claremont.ca.lwvnet.org.)
The history of water in Claremont is long and interesting. The Pomona Valley Protective Association was organized in 1906 by local citrus growers and well owners to manage water so that it would regenerate our local Six Basins Aquifer. They established the San Antonio and Thompson Creek Spreading Grounds, still used for spreading water and preserved as open space. Honnold Library has extensive notes from 1919 -1979 from Willis S. Jones who was superintendent of the Claremont Domestic Water Company. Much of Claremont’s water is pumped from local wells, but currently a third to a half must be imported from northern California via the State Water Project. At one time we also had access to Colorado River water, but when changed policies made that source no longer available the Claremont Domestic Water Company sold its water system to the Southern California Water Company (which is part of American States Water, and was later renamed Golden State Water Company). SCWC bought up mutual water companies and acquired groundwater rights to become the large company it is today. In 1999, on application of the water company, rights to the use of water from the Six Basins Aquifer were adjudicated. This aquifer underlies the cities of Claremont, LaVerne, Pomona, and northern Upland. GSWC was awarded 34.7% of the water rights, and the City of Claremont 2.8% which it leases to GSWC. When the basin was adjudicated it is likely Claremont could have been awarded more as overlying rights, but water rights law is complicated and this opportunity was not pursued. These water rights, acquired at little cost, are quite valuable. In 2004, when the City was discussing possible purchase of Claremont’s water system, GSWC spoke of $36.7 million as the value of their water rights.
As early as 1940, there was consideration of the City buying the local water system, but each time it chose not to do so. According to a local water expert the system could have been purchased for about $10,000 some years ago. In 2005 the asking price was on the order of $100 million. In recent years the City has been considering eminent domain proceedings to acquire the system. This could be considered again. If we owned the system, the City could set its own rates and gain control of this vital resource. Across the United States, some 85% of cities own their water systems. The Cities of LaVerne, Upland, Pomona and Los Angeles are among them.
As rates are considered, it’s informative to compare LaVerne and Claremont. The cost of 100 cubic feet of water for residential use in Claremont is now $3.22 (Tier 1, for the first 1300 cubic feet; Tier 3 is $4.13). In LaVerne the rate for most residences is about a dollar less at $2.08 or $2.22 (the rate varies by elevation from $2.01 to $2.64). In LaVerne the monthly charge for a 1 inch meter connection is $18.20; in Claremont it is $37.80 – more than twice as much.
There would be advantages to Claremont if it owned its water system. It would save on the cost of water. The City of LaVerne does not pay for water used by the City (parks, for example). In 2002 – 2003 Claremont paid GSWC over $400,000 for water used by the City. Claremont would have access to Federal and State grants not available to private water companies. Most important, Claremont could establish policy and set it own water rates based on local costs. One reason rates in Claremont are so high is that in 1999 the PUC allowed GSWC to use the same rate over a large region. Claremont is in Region III which covers an area from Barstow to Victorville to Seal Beach and beyond. Under regionalized rates San Dimas has the same rates as Claremont even though they must import 80% of their water – and imported water is about four times as expensive as local well water. We pay the same rates as desert cities such as Victorville.
Our local water supply is critical to our future. We could lose access to imported water if an earthquake destroyed levees, or if global warming diminished the water supply. Claremont’s Sustainable City Plan calls for planning for the use of reclaimed water to decrease our dependence on imported water. One such project being planned is a 500,000 gallon-per-day facility that would provide reclaimed water to replace potable water used to irrigate the grounds at the Claremont Colleges. That’s 5% of the water used in Claremont. We hope it will serve as a model that can be used throughout Claremont – but how will that be possible if only GSWC can serve their present customers?
Demystifying Sustainability is an initiative of Sustainable Claremont (sustainableclaremont.org).