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Will Climbing Water Rates Cause Public Outcry?

California Water Leaders to Meet in Palm Springs to Tackle Tough Water Issues

Palm Springs, CA – Water industry leaders from across California will come together this month in Palm Springs to discuss the increasing cost of water, assess public reaction to future rate hikes, and determine how cities and water agencies should respond. The gathering, at the Urban Water Institute’s (UWI) Spring Conference, will take place on February 9-10 at the Palm Springs Hilton. The conference theme asks the question, “Water Rates Are Going Up – Will the Public Rebel?”

Water bills are on the rise for customers all over the state. Increased demand for an already limited water supply, higher energy costs to pump, treat and move water, and stricter water quality regulations mean that end users will have to pay more to have healthy, reliable drinking water delivered to their taps.

But the public has very little understanding of the processes – and the costs – involved in bringing water to them safely and reliably, said Jim Noyes, executive director of the UWI. And water agencies need to work harder to fill in this information gap. “Relative to other utilities, water has traditionally been very inexpensive,” Noyes said. “This low cost has translated to very little interest from ratepayers. They tend to just get their bills and pay them. As costs have risen, this interaction is changing.”

Noyes, who worked for Los Angeles County Public Works for 38 years and retired as the agency’s director of public works, described the Urban Water Institute’s mission as providing non-partisan information to the water industry, with a focus on water economics and resource management. Since 1993, UWI has been assembling industry experts, public officials and other interested parties to educate them about relevant issues in water. This year, the issue on the minds of public agencies is rates, and how to communicate effectively about them to their customers.

“This conference will explore with water providers how to communicate the value of the service they provide to their customers,” said Celeste Cantú, general manager of the Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority. Cantú will moderate a panel focused on theimpacts of future water rate increases and possibilities for public agency response. “When costs go up, consumers have a right to know why. Discussing where their water comes from, how much of it they use and the treatment costs required to keep it healthy to drink not only helps answer this question, it also cultivates an ethic of responsible use.”

Riverside County Supervisor Marion Ashley will open the conference, along with Steve Bucknam, chairman of the UWI. Over two days, speakers and panels will address the future costs of water and power, the response of agencies and cities, the possibility of privatization and alternative options like desalination, among other topics. The Water Leader of the Year award will be presented, and keynote speaker Dr. Duane Paul of Cardno ENTRIX will discuss strategies to educate ratepayers about the true cost of water.

The conference anticipates 125 to 150 attendees. For more information on UWI, visit urbanwater.com.

About The Urban Water Institute

Founded in 1993, The Urban Water Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan public education organization. Its workshops, conferences, newsletters and member outreach inform the water industry about policies that affect water management, consumers and the larger economy.

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