The Water Wars – Garcetti & Council vs. The MWD.  Who Do You Trust?

EASTSIDER-Mayor Garcetti got ahead of a critical vote by the Metropolitan Water District over the Delta Tunnels, aka WaterFix, with his very own Daily Newsarticle about a New Mulholland moment. If you believe his tale, I know where the Tooth Fairy lives. 

The Mayor and the City Council 

In the piece, he blithely states, “I’m often asked if we have enough water in Los Angeles for our future. And I always answer that we have plenty of water.”Clearly, as he opposes WaterFix, he airily assumes that we can survivewithoutthe Tunnels and withenvironmentally nice reclamation plus DWP customer belt-tightening. 

The City Council, like the good little boys and girls they are, unanimously supported Hiz Honor on March 21 by voting to oppose the project. As reported by Lloyd Carter in his Chronicles of the Hydraulic Brotherhood,  the Council voted 13-0 “if any more costs fall on Los Angeles water customers.” 

These shenanigans did not go without controversy, however. Also, in The Daily Newsthey ran an OpEd piece by Joe Mathews on April 2, directly calling out the Mayor for his delusion. The article also appeared in the Sacramento Beeand elsewhere. 

“Los Angeles has a long history of water deceptions, a point made famously by Roman Polanski’s 1974 film classic. But the self-sabotage of the city’s latest scheme is a real doozy. LA has convinced itself of the hokum that it has all the water it needs. “ 

The Ratepayer Advocate Weighs In 

All these ideological stances by the Mayor and the City Council put the Ratepayer Advocate in one heck of a political position for a variety of reasons. First, Fred Pickel’s 5-year term expired almost a year ago, and he is currently working with no guarantee of future employment, as the City lumbers along with its special evaluation committee to determine the next 5-year Ratepayer Advocate. In other words, he’s working from day to day awaiting the outcome of the Charter process for a new 5- year term. 

Second, the opinion-based policy of the Mayor and the Council is to oppose WaterFix, damn the facts. Since the Mayor appoints the DWP Board, they too oppose Waterfix. Otherwise our thin-skinned Mayor will fire and replace them.  

Third, Dr. Pickel has been under a withering attack from environmental groups such as Consumer Watchdogand other favorites of the Mayor and his Council critters. I covered this reality less than a month ago in a CityWatch article.  

With all this going on, it is a credit to the integrity of Mr. Pickel that he stood his ground in an updated analysis, using those pesky tools called science and mathematics. You can find the Report with appendices here.   

The bottom line is that the average WaterFix Twin Tunnels Project surcharge would be an increased cost/month for a DWP ratepayer of $1.90 to $2.52 based on 2018 dollars. At page 5 of the Report, we are advised that “The updated Report is consistent with the OPA Reports on My 7, 2014, and August 24,2017 to the City’s Energy, Climate Change, and Environmental Justice Committee and it its predecessor.” 

The document is careful in that there is a section on Issues Not Addressedin the Report, together with a full series of appendices on everything from Waterfix Stage 1 Capital Cost AllocationstoCalculations: Impacts on Average, Low Income, and Lifeline Ratepayers.It’s worth a read if you are interested and has some new statistics I was unaware of. 

So, while the Report does not directly contradict any of the political ballyhoo of the Mayor and the Council, its findings and analysis clearly demonstrate that depending on (a) water remediation efforts by the City, and (b) climate change conditions, DWP will be purchasing MWD water up to the tune of over 60% in drought years. 

Long story short, I think that we DWP customers should feel good that our Ratepayer Advocate did not cave in and change findings based on the feel-good impossible political proposition that LA can get 100% of its water from renewable sources. 

The Takeaway 

Well, LA City just discovered that they don’t control everything. On a 61%-39% vote, the Metropolitan Water District voted last week to support the Delta Twin Tunnels Project, also known as WaterFix. 

The MWD voters largely ignored the Mayor and his allies, based on the majority using an analysis similar to that of my previous article The Case for California WaterFix,  where I wondered, “With the stock market going up and down like a yoyo, a very safe investment for private sector investors would be ... WaterFix. Seems to me that all we lack is a seriously rich Wall Street type to come to the rescue and make a large capital investment in the future of Southern California and Los Angeles.” 

As the Sacramento Bee noted, 

“Metropolitan agreed Tuesday to bankroll the farmers' share, putting its total contribution to the project at $10.8 billion. The Southern California agency hopes to sell some of the tunnels' capacity to the farmers to recoup its additional investment.

“‘In 15 years, our ratepayers won't be left holding the bag,’ said Board Chairman Randy Record. ‘They'll be holding a really valuable piece of infrastructure.’"

So, there you have it. Modest supplemental costs to DWP ratepayers under any of the scenarios. And as we are able to bring facilities online to remove the underground toxins in our existing water basins, as well as conserve to use less water, it will simply mean that we buy less water from the Metropolitan Water District. That puts us on the lower end of OPAs monthly surcharge estimates. 

Of course, it may take Mayor Garcetti and the City Council a while to get over the shock of being the hind tit instead of the whole sow. Then again, math was never their strong point – just ask Jack Humphreville.

 

(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.