San Diego Cries Foul Over High Water Prices

Allegations of conspiracy and bullying haunt access to water in the arid, Mediterranean climate of San Diego, Adam Nagourney and Felicity Barringer report.

Home to two of the nation's largest cities, Southern California is precariously dependent on that most precious of natural resources, water. With roughly 10 to 20 inches of rainfall per year at best, the region is fed largely by the Colorado River, thanks to a herculean feat of political maneuvering at the turn of the last century.

But the consortium of local governments and water districts that manages Southern California's access to water is under fire from the San Diego County Water Authority after a move this month to hike rates by 7.5 percent this year and the next – which, after considerable backlash, was reduced to 5 percent.

San Diego officials have taken the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD, for short) to court over complaints that the region was discriminated against in secret meetings, going so far as to publish compromising documents and emails on a new website.

Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager of MWD, rejects the allegations, calling them "unprofessional" and "a disservice to the public."

Nagourney and Barringer elaborate on San Diego's position in the region, explaining that the county "has four seats on the district's 37-member board, and there is little incentive for other communities to entertain San Diego's argument: When San Diego pays less, everyone else pays more."

Some in San Diego are skeptical of the Water Authority's course of action. "It just doesn't feel right," said Lani Lutar, the president of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association. "They are already pursuing the lawsuit. Those are ratepayer dollars being spent and all of the advertising. Is that necessary? The lawsuit is going to resolve the matter. The P.R. stunt has taken it too far."

Full Story: Fees and Anger Rise in California Water War

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