Water issues in Claremont: Water for life, not for profit

Claremont residents recently received mailers charging a “water grab” as the city moves toward reacquiring its water system. In 1922, Claremont—with only 2500 residents—asked the little southern California Water Company over in San Dimas to take over operation of its water company, and they did—for free! We know who engaged in a “water grab.” In the late 1990s, they went to court to get exclusive rights to most of the water used in Claremont, again for free!

In the last 90 years, that little San Dimas company has morphed into a national conglomerate, with shares sold through the New York Stock Exchange under the name “American States Water;” its chief aim: profitability for its stockholders. They later changed the “Southern California Water Co.” name to “Golden State Water Co.”

Every 3 years they submit rate increase requests to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and expect to be awarded at least half their inflated estimates. Only 12 years ago, the CPUC also granted “regional rates,” so Claremont and Bishop and Calipatria and cities that must rely entirely on expensive imported water all pay the same rates, despite vast differences in water costs. (Claremont gets more than half its water from local wells at a quarter of the cost of imported water.) 

As a private business, GSW has no transparency in their operation, and it is impossible to get straight facts about their affairs.

Claremont would like to negotiate a fair market price, but Golden State has refused to negotiate with Claremont officials. The only legal alternative is eminent domain proceedings, under which the price will be settled in court.

Golden State has tried to vilify this process as foolishly expensive, scaring residents so they will oppose it. The mailings and similar news stories are generated by a Sacramento PR firm, California Alliance to Protect Private Property Rights, employed by Golden State Water Company and paid for by you, with high water rates.

Wise Claremonters won’t be fooled by these exaggerations. We can buy the company and reduce costs of operation, even tho' water rates may not drop immediately.

Fact: residents of Claremont contribute approximately $8 million a year in profits to Golden State’s shareholders compared to our neighboring cities that own their water systems. That money would pay off revenue bonds used to purchase the water company, so that in less than 30 years we would own and control our own water resources and even earlier have lower water rates than under Golden State Water.  Water decisions require long-range thinking.

So, what are the issues? If the city acquires its own water rights and distribution system, the benefits carefully weighed are:

(1) local control: 85 percent of California cities own their water companies, setting their own rates;

(2) transparency in public meetings and published reports. A proprietary company does not have to make details of its operations public,  and Golden State Water does not do so;

(3) rates set locally based on actual costs of water and services, not by far-off managers and the CPUC;

(4) $8 million/year not sent out of town to distant stockholders would pay off bonds. There is no need to increase taxes as the bonds could be paid for by water users without increasing water rates.

(5) conservers of water would not have to pay that WRAM charge which pays Golden State for not delivering water;

(6) with long-range planning, we could increase storage, better utilize storm water and improve the yield of local wells;

(7) owning our water company assures us permanent control of this scarce natural resource.

(8) But we don’t have a Claremont water manager! Of course not; we have not needed one. But there are many around and neighboring cities have voiced offers of help.

Claremont surely has as competent residents as our neighbors. OF COURSE, WE CAN DO IT!

“Water for life, not for profit” should be Claremont’s motto.

Marilee Scaff, a longtime Claremont resident and a student of local water issues for decades, is a member of Sustainable Claremont and has been active on the Sustainable Claremont Water Action Group since its founding in early 2009.