Thanks to the excellent reporting of Matt Stevens and Alice Walton of The Los Angeles Times Los Angeles residents are learning that their water bills will raise by nearly two dollars a month to cover a shortfall at the Department of Water and Power. The Times article states that LA residents have saved about ten percent more than was expected which caused the revenue of the DWP to fall enough to need to raise revenue this way. While the DWPis not alone in the particular plight in drought-stricken California, and insists that residents will still be saving money so long as they have conserved, this still raises the eyebrows and hackles of many LA residents. While the additional revenue from the fee will go toward repair and maintenence, one cannot help but to feel a little bit as though this was a “damned if you do damned if you don’t” situation.

Taxes and fees are means by which we raise revenue, but they are also a means of control, deterrent and encouragement. Taxing gas makes gas more expensive and can help residents to be more wise in how much they drive. Other times the absence of a tax can imply that the government is encouraging a type of behavior, such as a tax credit for using solar power. So under normal taxing logic, a fee on water use would be use to drive water usage down by pricing the water in such a way that more sustainable and conservative water use measures would be taken.

This recent decision makes sense for all the administrative reasons and makes no sense for policy and optic reasons. The DWP needs revenue; there is no argument there. And this is the easiest and fastest way for the agency under its own power to make up the lost revenue. This makes sense in most administrations as there ore only a few methods under the direct control of the agency in terms of revenue. This happens to be the easiest and fastest way for the DWP to refill their coffers without having to wait for the next annual budget and submitting numbers to the city to cover the loss in revenue.

However, as much as this makes sense for the administration, it makes no sense to residents in terms of the intended goal of the water reduction. The goal of the water reduction is to help save the scarce water resources of the state in a time of drought. LA residents have risen to that task and then some and apparently are being punished for their diligence. If the overarching goal is to save water it makes no sense policy wise to punish the residents of LA for doing what is admittedly, a good job. These residents have taken it upon themselves to save water and are going to have to pay more because of it. What incentive is there then for residents to continue in the same vein? Were I an LA resident, the raising of the fees seems very much like a slap in the face.

This also just doesn’t look good. The amount of bad publicity that the DWP will receive is going to at least be a headache for the agency. This is optically will look bad not only for the DWP but for Los Angeles as well in their continued sustainability efforts. This is certainly not the message that LA wants to send to its residents; that over performance on a civic duty and request by your government will result in a punishment.

The DWP needs to revisit this decision immediately. While this may be the only fix at least in the short term; the agency needs to scope out other options that can increase their revenue while simultaneously not punishing residents for good behavior. The continued success of sustainability efforts demands it.

Link to the original LA Times Story: