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Ratepayer advocate wants more time to examine DWP's water proposal

The LADWP's John Ferraro Building
The LADWP's John Ferraro Building
T Hoffarth/Flickr (Creative Commons-licensed)

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The Department of Water and Power's board has sent forward its energy rates, but officials are holding back water rates for a while. Top utility officials told their board members (the three of five who showed up to approve energy rates) that, essentially, this isn't a big deal.

As the L.A. Department of Water and Power prepares its case to raise rates for the first time in years, there’s a new sheriff in town: Dr. Fred Pickel, the ratepayer advocate who’s been on the job for just over half a year. The utility’s general manager, Ron Nichols, acknowledged that Pickel’s job policing water rates for the DWP is going to take several more months than planned.

"Given this more rigorous process that we’re doing now with the ratepayer advocate, it gets a little bit more like an investor owned utility’s rate review," Nichols told the board. "It’s a bit more formalized and it requires an awful lot more indication; it’s takes us months to prepare that documentation."

Pickel doesn’t have a fully-staffed office yet; an external consulting firm still supports his work. So the piles of paper DWP produces take months to read. Nichols said that makes sense to him. 

"While we’ve spent a lot of time with the ratepayer advocate and his consultants on the water rate, they’re just not at a point where they’re comfortable," he told the board, "they still have some additional questions, it would take additional time to go through that."

Nichols says the DWP can meet state water quality mandates on its present budget. The utility’s decision not to press forward on water rates means that energy rates advance to the L.A. City Council’s energy and environment committee separately next week. Nichols and Pickel were vague about how long it would take for water rates to get that far. The original plan would have bumped up water bills starting next July.

The ratepayer advocate emphasized that even with a delay, water in the city of L.A. will probably cost more soon. "It’s not as if we’re not going to get a rate increase," Pickel said. It’s just that the specifics of the rate increase aren’t going to get worked out until possibly next fall."

Pickel and top DWP officials predict that it’ll be several months before L.A.’s water rates are the subject of public hearings again.