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Experience in Whittier Shows Food & Water Watch’s Narrative on Water Rates is Misleading

An article in the Whittier Daily News details a decision by Whittier, California’s government-run water utility to significantly raise water rates to fund water delivery costs and much needed system improvements. Food & Water Watch has long pushed a false narrative about water companies – that the water rates for water company customers are higher than with public systems. Here’s the point that this activist narrative completely ignores: ensuring rates support proper investment in water systems is the responsible course of action for all utilities. As a result, rates have increased across the country – about 7 percent per year – for both government-run and private water utilities. While rate increases are never popular, they are a reality for all utilities, public and private, in order to provide safe and reliable water service to communities.

“Regardless of how much water somebody uses – whether they use 1 gallon or (a lot) – you still have the cost of the system to deliver the water to somebody,” Whittier City Manager Jeff Collier said. “You need pumping plants, transmission lines, meters, and reservoirs,” Collier said.

The biggest driver of rates is infrastructure investment. While water companies may have higher rates in some cases, strategic and proactive investments in infrastructure by water companies do come with significant benefits. Recent research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences confirms that there are fewer drinking water quality violations in systems owned and operated by water companies compared to government-run systems.

Responsible utilities ensure that their rates cover the full cost of providing water services – meaning they don’t keep rates artificially low by deferring necessary investments or subsidizing rates with other municipal funds. While, sure, systems that continually defer investment may maintain relatively low water rates, communities will eventually face dire consequences when their systems are no longer able to deliver quality water service. It is not wise to blindly celebrate low water rates, as Food & Water Watch continually does.

We are not surprised that Food & Water Watch hasn’t commented on the rate hike in Whittier – that is generally the case with anything to do with a government-run system. But we do hope that the group can finally take the lesson to heart that their rate comparisons are bogus and responsible utilities – both public and private – are making necessary investments in infrastructure. This piece out of Whitter provides yet another example of why this activist narrative is so misleading.

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