Over the Hill

Water-rate dispute is like an illness

Our long-running water-rate quarrel here in Paso Robles has some of the symptoms of an autoimmune disorder.

An autoimmune disorder is when your own immune system attacks your body. It causes serious illnesses such as rheumatoid arthritis or multiple sclerosis.

It involves your white blood cells. They usually defend your body against germs, poisons, cancer cells and other threats, but sometimes they mistake healthy body tissue for some sort of threat, and attack it continuously.

I’m afraid some rate-increase opponents see the “city” as a threat to fight, not as the body that they are members of.

The Paso Robles City Council has been trying since 2007 to find an acceptable way to raise water rates. The increase is needed because in 2004 the council officially committed the city to buy 4,000 acre-feet of water per year from the then-proposed Nacimiento pipeline, which is about complete. Water is expected to flow through it this summer. The city must soon start paying for it.

Rate-increase opponents, under the flag of the Concerned Citizens for Paso Robles, have opposed every increase proposal. The CCPR leader, John Borst, and three other people also filed an $8-million claim against Paso Robles alleging that earlier water and sewer rate-increases were illegal. The class-action suit is currently pending in court.

The CCPR is again urging water customers to submit written protests against the council’s latest rate proposal. If more than half the customers protest by April 6, the increase dies.

I won’t protest. This is the fairest of all the council’s rate proposals. We’d pay only for the water we use. In 2011, we’d pay $2.50 per billing unit (748 gallons.), and by 2015, $4.40. The more you conserve, the less you pay.

And I see real threats. The North County is a dry place, and these days more wells suck up its water as rural-residential and agricultural pumping increases. Well levels are down. On some hot summer days in recent years, the city wells couldn’t keep up with the demand. Imagine fighting a runaway fire on a hot, parched, blustery day with low water pressure. That’s a threat.

And without a water-rate increase, how will the city pay the several million dollars each year that it owes for Nacimiento water? That would deplete the water department’s reserve fund in a few years. Then they’d have to take money from other city departments. And the city still couldn’t use the lake water until it got some money to build a treatment plant.

To fight those threats, Roblans need to chip in.

Contact Phil Dirkx at phild2008@sbcglobal.net or 238-2372.