The Otay Water District, which provides water, sewage, and recycled water to communities in southeastern San Diego County including portions of Chula Vista, Spring Valley, Otay Mesa, Jamul, and others, is suing the city of San Diego for breach of contract, increased recycled water rates, and a lack of transparency. District officials are asking that a judge rescind the January 2016 rate increases and pay the district back the money it unfairly collected.
The lawsuit is yet another example of the region's growing concerns for water and rising rates.
In a May 30 Writ of Mandate, Otay Water District attorneys say the city violated its 2003 operating agreement with the water district when it decided in November 2015 to increase rates on reclaimed water to pay for expanding its reclaimed water services to those serviced by the "North City" water plants. At the same time the city increased rates on those serviced by the South City Water Plant, the water plant which sells 99 percent of its water to Otay Water District. That means Otay Water District customers were forced to pay for improvements that they would not benefit from, as the North City and South City plants operate completely independent from one another. The city increased the rates, according to the lawsuit, absent any public vote.
The across-the-board rate increase, claims the lawsuit, are unfair and unreasonable and not "proportionate to the benefits received by [Otay Water District] ratepayers."
Adds the lawsuit, "The cost of service principles...preclude rate structures where some customers are essentially forced to subsidize others. But, that is exactly what is happening under the City's unitary rate. Otay is being charged for a service or product that it cannot and does not receive."
The rate increase is not the only problem.
Water district officials say the city has failed to show accounting for how, and if, it has used portions of the district's one-time payment of $3.6 million dollars meant to pay for water reserves and transmission pipelines. Meanwhile, adds the lawsuit, the city has not paid Otay Water District to use portions of district-owned water pipelines.
The lawsuit underscores the larger issue of rising water rates for all San Diegans. According to a May 25 report in the Voice of San Diego, San Diegans pay double the national average on its monthly water bills.