Welcome to Brown Town

by Lou Binninger

California Water Service (CWS) says it has served Marysville since 1930. However, no one at city hall could confirm that or find any official agreement with CWS.

CWS is a private corporation versus a municipal utility like Yuba City, Linda and Olivehurst. In recent years CWS has routinely raised rates to the place where most all of their residential accounts (3,800 total Marysville customers) have discontinued any outdoor watering. It’s just too expensive. As a result Marysville has become Brown Town.

The CWS bill is usually the biggest utility payment for those daring to irrigate outdoors. That’s something when PG&E rates are 60% higher than average power and gas costs in the nation.

Marysville’s water rates have been up to 200% higher than adjacent communities. Even the City of Marysville cannot afford to water the parks. It’s not due to a lack of water. During the state-wide drought the water table in Marysville remained robust and steady. CWS pays nothing for the water it extracts via Marysville wells to deliver to patrons.

Baby boomers from Marysville can remember the time when it was shocking to see a brown lawn anywhere in the city. It was a sign of abandonment or neglect. Parks were pristine with healthy trees lining the streets. Today, hundreds of dead or sickly trees blight city thoroughfares.

A June 2013 Territorial Dispatch article stated, “Since 2003, Californian Water Service (CWS) has bumped rates nearly every year for a net cumulative 121.80% over ten years -- an average 12% annually. Additional increases are proposed -- 18.4% in 2014, 20.1% in 2015 and 9.4% in 2016 or another 47.9 % over 36 months.”

Although the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) did not grant the total increases requested above the CPUC routinely awards higher rates to assure the company a guaranteed return on investment. Dividends have been paid to stockholders for the last 73 years. CWS is great to invest in but horrible to buy water from if you are concerned about money.

Now, CWS is applying for a 16.9% increase over three years (2020, 2021, and 2022). They claim the “typical bill in Marysville of $50.84” will see $3.53, $1.41 and $1.61 monthly increases. Not knowing whether $50.84 is an average or a mean figure, if accurate what is known is the bill reflects people using little water and not irrigating outdoors, just drive around town for a look. People cannot afford the water. New residents are shocked after they move in and receive their water bill.

Many residents could save enough money in a year of lower water bills by relocating across the river to cover a month’s rent payment.

CWS is currently asking CPUC to continue their Water Rate Adjustment Mechanism (WRAM) which charges the customer an amount above the basic service fee and usage to cover CWS costs if the customer does not use enough water. CWS knows Marysville residents cannot afford the water and will be using less, not due to drought or meager supply but due solely to unaffordable usage rates.

CWS is fond of saying the CPUC governs its rates and is a real taskmaster in its role to protect the ratepayer. The problem is that the commission protects utilities and not the people.

Columnist Thomas Elias writes extensively on California utilities and the corrupt nature of the relationship between the commission and utilities. Consumer-advocate attorney and former city attorney for San Diego Michael Aguirre has acquired via court order previously withheld CPUC emails.

These emails from several months in 2014 describe meetings routinely occurring among the top four big energy and water agencies called the Energy Principals and included members of the PUC, Energy Commission, Air Resources Board, Water Resources Control Board, operators of the electric grid and coordinated out of the governor’s office. No Brown Act public notices were ever filed.

Emails revealed that meetings were conducted in Warsaw, Poland, at former CPUC president Michael Peevey’s house in LA and in the home of air board chair Mary Nichols in LA. The CPUC has been caught cutting deals with PG and E regarding their gas explosion costs in the San Bruno disaster and with Southern California Edison Co. for their mismanagement of and costs to close San Onofre nuclear power plant. In short, consumers were stuck with billions of expenses for utility company malfeasance.

Governor Brown’s office says no public notice was required for these meetings, nothing to see here. Bottom line – expect higher water rates in Marysville.

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