In California, you can’t charge water hogs more than the rest of us

Crazy California’s proclivity for “governance by voter initiative” seems to have just undercut one of the major tools in the municipal water conservation kit.

Tiered water rates, in which residents are charged a low rate for basic needs and increasingly higher rates for high usage, violate California law, according to a court ruling handed down today. Matt Stevens in the L.A. Times:

[T]he 4th District Court of Appeal  struck down San Juan Capistrano’s fee plan, saying it violated voter-approved Proposition 218, which prohibits government agencies from charging more for a service than it costs to provide it.

“We do hold that above-cost-of-service pricing for tiers of water service is not allowed by Proposition 218 and in this case, [the city] did not carry its burden of proving its higher tiers reflected its costs of service,” the court said in its ruling.


  1. Judicially deciding cert, applicability and unconstitutionality in California with all this Initiative & Referendum has gotta be the greatest job security EVER. Not so great from a public policy perspective, I suppose. Kinda like anarchy with benefits.

  2. The people running SJC should have paid attention to David Zetland who addressed this very question:

    * Make sure that the first three tiers (e.g., “lifeline,” “basic” and “normal” blocks) recover ALL costs associated with service. Put differently, set revenues (price x quantity for first three tiers) to equal costs.

    * Implement fourth and fifth tiers (“wasteful” and “god-awful”) that are far more expensive. Anyone who uses water in this range will pay 200-300% of the prices in the lower tiers.

    * Since revenue in Tiers 4 and 5 are NOT in the budget, they do not need to reflect the “cost of service.”

    And then there was this from American Water Works Assn:

  3. Too bad. The designers of water rates in areas where conservation is essential need to sharpen their pencils and formulate them to reflect costs. Cannot this be done easily, since a unit of water can be tied to a cost of making it available?

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