Numbers released in protest of groundwater rates

Water district

Based on the figures released Tuesday, well owners using water
distributed by the Santa Clara Valley Water District aren’t too
concerned with increasing water rates.
Based on the figures released Tuesday, well owners using water distributed by the Santa Clara Valley Water District aren’t too concerned with increasing water rates. Just 92 protests were counted and validated by the water district after a three-month window to stymie a proposed 3.6 percent increase in South County and a 9.4 percent increase in North County.

The district received 85 envelopes total (as described in the document below), including multiple protest letters in some of the mailed envelopes.

Ten protest letters were invalid, according to Clerk of the Board Michele King and the accounting firm whom the district hired to oversee the process.

At least 1,800 protest letters were needed for a majority protest in South County; 63 protests by either well and/or parcel owners were turned in. In North County, 1,500 well protests were needed for a majority protest, however 19 were submitted.

About 175 staff hours were required to conduct the groundwater production protest tabulation this year, according to the water district memo.

The water district, which sells water wholesale to cities, individual well owners and other agencies, has proposed a 3.6 percent rate increase on water rates that will likely determine how much water retailers charge their customers. If the protest is successful, water rates will remain at their current price of $275 per acre foot for municipal and industrial use and $16.50 per a/f for agricultural use. If it fails, prices will increase pending a final vote by the board of directors due next month. A simple majority of well owners must send in valid protest letters for a successful protest.

Last year the first year the district publicized that well owners had the right to protest increases in water rates, and while the numbers are far greater than the 2011 tally – 433 in South County and 84 in North County – too few well owners sent a letter of protest. A well and/or parcel owner who does not mail a protest letter is considered a vote in favor of the increases. That logic has confounded some South County residents who have also openly voiced their disappointment in the protest process.

The ability to protest stems from a decision by Superior Court Judge Kevin Murphy in 2009 that said the district was illegally collecting groundwater fees, which are supposed to be put to a yearly vote by well owners under Proposition 218 and the Santa Clara Valley Water District Act. Murphy determined that the water district had to refund San Jose-based Great Oaks Water Co., which sued the district, more than $4.6 million – a year’s worth of illegally collected groundwater charges – after determining Great Oaks was overcharged in 2005-06.

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