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Following the flow back to the source

Water prices depend on where you live and how much you use.

April 13, 2011|By Joe Piasecki, joe.piasecki@latimes.com

First, the good news: After nearly three years under a state of water emergency, heavy snowfall and rebounding reservoir levels prompted Gov. Jerry Brown to declare late last month that California’s drought is officially over.

But rather than turn on the sprinklers with reckless abandon, La Cañada Flintridge residents remain under continued pressure to conserve — if for no other reason than water here has gotten to be fairly expensive.

La Cañadans might be surprised to learn they pay up to twice as much for water as their neighbors in Pasadena and Glendale.

Making things more complicated, La Cañada Flintridge is served by four different retail water agencies, all of which bill for water at significantly different rates. Some use a flat rate, while others employ tiered rate structures that increase in price as more is used.

A side-by-side analysis of local water rates indicates that Valley Water Co., which serves about 3,600 homes in the city’s south and central neighborhoods, has the lowest overall water prices in the city.

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Not far behind is the Crescenta Valley Water District, which in addition to La Crescenta serves a portion of homes on La Cañada’s west side. That is, unless a CVWD customer uses a very large amount of water — in which case the agency’s tiered rate structure results with some of the area’s steepest charges.

Whether their charges are on the high or low end of the spectrum, residents have no choice among the city’s four retail water agencies. Each came into being to serve specific parts of the community as it grew from a rugged rural landscape into an exclusive Los Angeles suburb.

The Valley Sun began comparing water charges in the area after several readers responded to a call two weeks ago to share their water bills — and confusion or concerns about those bills — with the newspaper.

What we found was a case study in complexity, involving various costs that local water agency managers explained accumulate over multiple steps in the water delivery process.

How water bills work

Customers pay local water agencies not only for the amount of water they use, but also for the cost of electricity used to pump the water, the pipes and reservoirs and other infrastructure needed to deliver it, as well as the overhead involved in maintaining a business.

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