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Judge dismisses challenge to Western’s water rate structure

A win for water budgets and a victory for customers who use water efficiently
RIVERSIDE, CA – A Riverside Superior Court judge dismissed a legal challenge against Western Municipal Water District’s water rate structure.
“This is a good day for Western’s retail water customers – more than 85 percent of whom conserve water, keeping their monthly water costs as low as possible,” said Craig Miller, Western’s general manager. “Had Western lost this challenge, customers who proactively stay within their monthly water allocation would have seen an increase in the monthly water bill to offset the excess use of other customers.”
The ruling is a victory for customers who use water efficiently, conserve a limited resource and help Western achieve statewide water management goals. 
Superior Court Judge Daniel A. Ottolia ruled that Western’s budget-based rates are compliant with the State constitution, Proposition 218 and satisfy the State’s requirements that agencies implement measures to conserve California’s water resources.
In April 2018, two petitioners from one Riverside-area home filed a petition for a writ of mandate, asking a Riverside County court to invalidate Western’s water budget rate structure. The Petitioners alleged that Western’s rates violate Proposition 218 the 1996 statewide ballot measure that prevents water providers and other utilities from charging more for a water service than the costs incurred to provide that service.
Under Western’s rate structure, customers who stay within their water budgets pay the lowest rates (Tiers 1 and 2), while those who use water inefficiently, wastefully or unsustainably pay more based on higher costs of service incurred by Western (Tiers 3 through 5).
Western’s five-tier rate structure (for indoor, outdoor, inefficient, wasteful and unsustainable water use) is based on decades of research into the water needs of people, plants and animals. Western’s 2017 rate study considered Prop. 218, state legislators’ expressed authorization of tiered rates, and other California court cases affirming that Prop. 218 allows tiered rate structures.
The higher rates in Western’s Tiers 3, 4 and 5 link directly to higher costs of service: wasteful water users drive higher costs by requiring the District to acquire additional more expensive water, invest in capital improvements to expand water supplies, and operate water efficiency programs to comply with California laws on water conservation. These additional costs are not included in the rates charged in Tiers 1 and 2.
Western’s General Manager Craig Miller added that because of Western’s water budgets, and the allocation of lower-cost local water supplies to indoor water use, customers will continue to pay the lowest possible rate for water used in drinking, cooking, bathing and indoor cleaning.

Western imports 60 percent of its water through the State Water Project, which begins more than 700 miles away in Lake Oroville. Western buys 40 percent of its annual supply locally – and allocates all of this lower-cost local water to the essential needs of its retail customers in Tier 1: health and sanitation.
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