Increasing the price of water encourages conservation. But California water regulators are seeking the best way to do that without running into legal problems.
Earlier this year a California court struck down a city's tiered-rate structure because the charges were not directly tied to the cost of service, a violation of voter-approved Proposition 218.
Lester Snow with the California Water Foundation says a constitutional amendment is needed.
“It is a hindrance to what I would call aggressive tiered pricing," says Snow. "I think it’s a bad situation where we’re pushing people to conserve and we have systematically withheld some of the tools.”
The State Water Resources Control Board is discussing all pricing mechanisms – including a suggestion that the board collect a fee from agencies whose customers use too much water.
Mark Weston with the San Diego County Water Authority advised against that.
“It would be the same as going to the ag community and saying 'we’re going to tell you how much water you use per acre and if you use anything over that, we’re going to penalize you',” says Weston.
He told the board tiered water rates work best. Other agencies suggested all rate payers be subject to a drought surcharge or levy penalties against customers who use too much water.