Drought Watch: LA County Water Plan is Tough But Could've Been Worse

Going into the Tuesday meeting, a Los Angeles County Waterworks plan included triple surcharges that could have been very expensive for customers not making the proper conservation cuts. The Board of Supervisors, though, voted on a plan that, instead, includes double-surcharges.

On the hot seat, in the middle of the meeting, Gary Hildebrand. He's deputy director of LA County's Department of Public Works. Speaking into a microphone he tries to convince the board that a controversial water conservation plan the department supports is really a good one. Hildebrand says to the board, "We are trying to balance and not unduly burden customers reduce their water use." To the Deputy Director that's an important piece of the plan. He feels people who have conserved should be rewarded and not penalized. Surcharges, or fines, should be for those not doing what they can.

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The plan only affects three parts of LA County. They are Topanga Canyon, Malibu and Antelope Valley. The latter two were hit with State Water Board cuts of 36 and 32% respectively. There are objectors...

Armand Fagen, from the Antelope Valley, says "It's ridiculous. People can't afford it"

Michelle Lewis, also from AV says, "We are trying to make sense of why these numbers are so harsh and the allotments just don't seem to be fair."

Gary Hildebrand, though, says it is fair. Most water districts have just told customers you have to come in under the 2013 water bills. That's not the case with this one. The methodology is tricky. Instead of looking at a customers past usage the plan takes an average of all single family homes in the district. Then, by reducing that average by the state mandated cuts of 36% (Antelope Valley) or 32% (Malibu) there is a target "...and the actual usage above that target allocation would be subject to a surcharge," says Hildebrand.

With that plan, though, some people could get hit was cuts of 70% to 80% like Diane Nichol from Lancaster who told the board "Our water usage is going to need to be cut by 80% or we would have a $700 billing period penalty."

In the end, Supervisor Sheila Kuehl asked for a reduction in those penalties and the board approved the measure , but instead of double and triple-sized sur charges only 1.5 and double the water rate.

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