Kern County Supervisors voted unanimously today to actively oppose a water rate increase by the
County’s largest water supplier, California Water Service (CWS).
The action allows the county to officially intervene in a proceeding before the California Public Utilities Commission, which is considering CWS’s request to raise water rates up to 19.2% in Bakersfield and 10.5% in the Kern River Valley.
Supervisors said they believe it is unfair to expect these residents to absorb such a large increase in their water budget, particularly since CWS has not offered sufficient financial justification for the rate increases.
"More than half of Cal Water's Bakersfield and Kern River Valley residents have low to moderate incomes or are senior citizens living on fixed incomes," Board of Supervisors Chairman David Couch said. "This rate increase would impose a significant hardship on these people."
Supervisors said they have many questions regarding the need for rate increases that could send water bills for CWS customers in Bakersfield to an average of $1,176 per year and as high as $1,596 on average in the Kern River Valley. The rate increases would come on top of higher water rates approved in 2013.
CWS’ proposal would raise rates incrementally over three years (2017, 2018 and 2019). Its CPUC filing claims the increases are necessary to replace water lines and upgrade facilities in the region, but Supervisors question whether CWS has been providing responsive and effective water service in return for the rates it charges, and they expressed strong concerns about the affordability of the proposed increases.
"The EPA's recommended affordability threshold for water and wastewater costs combined is 2.5% of income, and the California Department of Public Health sets affordability at 1.5% of income," Supervisor Couch said. "Cal Water's current rates in the Kern River Valley already far surpass the affordable level and would climb even higher under the current rate proposal. In Bakersfield, half of Cal Water's customers have incomes below the federal poverty level, and their water bills will be nearly 50% higher than the affordable threshold if this is approved."
Couch said county officials will provide formal testimony in opposition to the rate increase later this year.