Environment & Science

San Juan Capistrano water rate ruling complicates drought measures, municipalities say

Cities, counties and local water agencies argue that a recent appellate court decision about tiered water rates in San Juan Capistrano shouldn't apply anywhere else.
Cities, counties and local water agencies argue that a recent appellate court decision about tiered water rates in San Juan Capistrano shouldn't apply anywhere else.
Michael Juliano/KPCC

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Cities, counties and other local agencies are asking the state Supreme Court to depublish a judge’s opinion on San Juan Capistrano's tiered water rates. They say the appellate court decision could make it harder to save water in the drought. 

At least a third of urban water suppliers use tiered water rates, where people who use more, pay more. State water regulators are encouraging these pricing schemes in more places because they say escalating rates discourage wasting water.

The San Juan Capistrano ruling has complicated all that - says Jennifer Henning, a lawyer for the California State Association of Counties. "Water purveyors are between a rock and a hard place because we’re under a lot of new restrictions coming down from the state with more surely to follow, at the same time this opinion comes out," she says. 

Water suppliers aren’t trying to change the ruling that San Juan Capistrano’s rates were unconstitutional. But the court also found that rates have to be based on the cost of acquiring and delivering water.  Henning argues that local agencies also manage water so tiered rates should be able to take that into account too.