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Thursday, Apr 11 2013 06:35 PM

Advocates say Cal Water's rate request unjustified

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    Consumer advocates have recommended a sharply lower rate increase than the 20.4 percent rise Cal Water has proposed to take effect in Bakersfield at the start of next year.

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BY JOHN COX Californian staff writer jcox@bakersfield.com

Consumer advocates have recommended a sharply lower rate increase than the 20.4 percent rise Cal Water has proposed to take effect in Bakersfield at the start of next year.

A report last month by the state Public Utilities Commission's Division of Ratepayer Advocates rejected most of the infrastructure and administrative expenditures that California Water Service Co. filed for in July as part of its rate proposal. The DRA asked that the utility's rate increase be limited to 1.6 percent.

Danilo Sanchez, the DRA's water branch manager, said in an interview Thursday that many of Cal Water's proposed expenditures either were not necessary or could be deferred.

The difference between Cal Water's proposal and the DRA's is nearly $12 million a year in revenue, spread among the utility's roughly 270,000 Bakersfield customers.

Any rate increase would likely end up somewhere between the two proposals, as is typical in the rate-setting process California's investor-owned utilities go through every three years. But that will be up to the commission, which is expected to make a final decision on Cal Water's request in December.

A public hearing on Cal Water's request is set to begin at 6 p.m. April 29 at Bakersfield City Council Chambers, 1501 Truxtun Ave.

Among the capital improvements Cal Water said the rate increase would pay for:

six miles of new water mains;

additional security to water facilities;

3,900 feet of large diameter transmission mains;

new membrane filters and additional water treatment;

expansion of the system that lets the utility monitor and control certain water facilities remotely.

"Just like the tires and brakes on your car, water system infrastructure must be maintained and eventually replaced," Cal Water wrote in a flyer to customers.

"Despite the current economic climate, we have an obligation to provide safe water and reliable fire protection while meeting increasingly stringent water quality and environmental regulations."

The general reaction among local ratepayers has apparently been less than enthusiastic.

Rudy Valles, Cal Water's Bakersfield district manager, said, "If I had a meter and we had to go from accepting to not accepting (the proposed rate increase), I would say we're closer to the not accepting side."

Cal Water has 23 districts around the state. One is in the Kern River Valley, where the utility has asked for a 33.5 percent rate increase to cover $1.7 million in proposed expenditures. In that district, the DRA said a 19.5 percent increase appears to be justified to raise a little more than $1 million.

Systemwide, the utility is asking for a 19.4 percent rate increase to cover proposed expenditures totaling $92.2 million.

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