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Judge tentatively rules in SDCWA’s favor

REGION — SDCWA (San Diego County Water Authority) won the first court battle in its lawsuit against its main water supplier MWD (Metropolitan Water District) over water rates.

On Feb. 25, San Francisco County Superior Court Judge Curtis E. A. Karnow tentatively ruled that the rates the Los Angles-based MWD charged over the past four years violated California’s Constitution and laws.

“Today’s tentative ruling validates the difficult and extraordinary measures the Water Authority was forced to take to protect the ratepayers and the economy of San Diego County,” said Thomas Wornham, Chair of SDCWA’s Board of Directors in a statement.

The ruling was based on lawsuits SDCWA filed in 2010 and 2012 challenging the rates charged by MWD.

The lawsuits came about as SDCWA has worked to reduce its dependence on MWD’s water, primarily by purchasing water from the Colorado River with a 45-year contract signed in 2003.

MWD still provides almost half of SDCWA’s water and the district’s infrastructure is necessary to transport water from the Colorado River to SDCWA customers.

SDCWA has claimed that MWD inflated the rates charged to cover the cost of using the district’s pipelines to transport water from another supplier in order to subsidize the water costs for the 25 other agencies that purchase water from MWD.

SDCWA has asserted that MWD has the potential to overcharge the county by $1.3 billion to $2.1 billion over the course of SDCWA’s 45-year contract with IID (the Imperial Irrigation District) for Colorado River water.

MWD has alleged that SDCWA is trying to avoid covering the fair share of the costs to maintain water supply and pipelines.

A statement released by Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager of MWD, indicated that the district intends to appeal the ruling.

“Metropolitan is confident that its structure of charging all agencies the same rates for the same services is both logical and legal. This is one initial step in a very long process,” he said. “We look forward to the coming steps in the judicial process.”

The ruling comes in the wake of Proposition 26, which places the burden on public agencies to prove they are charging the actual cost of the services they deliver and was approved by voters in 2010.

Additional hearings that will determine if MWD breached its 2003 contract with SDCWA to set lawful rates and if MWD undervalued SDCWA’s right to their water supply have yet to be scheduled.