The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved an increase in water rates Tuesday, January 12th that county residents will soon begin seeing in their utility bills.

The motion, which passed unanimously, will allow Los Angeles County to raise the current water assessment by 19.9 percent in Marina del Rey.

Before the vote, the supervisors heard a presentation from representatives of the Los Angeles County WaterWorks Districts, which distributes water to various communities in the county, including the Marina.

The supervisors said the increase was needed to pass through wholesale water cost increases from the water agencies serving the waterworks district and the Marina del Rey Water System.

Last summer, the West Basin Municipal Water District, the sole water supplier to Marina del Rey, reduced the amount of water that it imports from the northern part of the state by 15 percent and cut back on its deliveries to District 29 by the same amount.

Shortly thereafter, the board declared a water shortage and approved a resolution mandating reductions in water usage by 15 percent for Marina residential and commercial customers.

“This means that all the customers in Marina del Rey will have to do their part to manage with limited water,” said Fourth District Supervisor Don Knabe, who represents the coastal enclave.

The water district raised its rates after a statewide drought was declared and residents and businesses were encouraged to implement stricter conservation measures.

Water supply to Marina del Rey is imported from the state water project in northern California or the Colorado River.

The county began implementing certain water-saving measures last year. Santos Kreimann, director of the county Department of Beaches and Harbors in Marina del Rey, said an emphasis on water conservation is a part of the county’s long-term development strategy.

“We’ve been working with the lessees to identify funding for internal infrastructure,” Kreimann said.

In addition, the frequency of the watering of medians has been modified, along with restricting watering in the dry storage areas.

Locally, businesses and residents are also bracing for the rate hike. Greg Schem, the proprietor of the Boatyard, says that other than boat slip fee tenants who wash their boats, his water costs are minimal.

“We’ve distributed nozzles to our tenants that reduce water use,” Schem said. “We’re trying to mitigate the cost increases by trying to reduce usage.”

David Levine, president of the Marina del Rey Lessees Association, said his association anticipated county officials taking action due to the ongoing water shortage.

“These rates reflect the rates established by the Metropolitan Water District, which provides the water to certain areas within Los Angeles County, including Marina del Rey,” Levine told The Argonaut.

Levine noted that state law permits water agencies to ask for increases in wholesale charges for water or adjustments for inflation to its customers.

“As a result, the county

Waterworks District and the Marina del Rey Water System are passing along the wholesale water rate increases charged by the MWD, which figures to be an approximate 20-percent increase in the retail rate charged to lessees and other businesses that have individual water meters in the Marina,” he said.

David DeLange, a Marina resident, said a case could be made for the new rate hikes, but that would depend on the purpose of the new costs.

“If it were not for the impacts on people with less ability to pay, there could be some advantages,” said DeLange. “It could restrain our tendency to overuse water.”

Marina del Rey received the second highest price jump in the county. Waterworks District No. 36 had an increase of 23.4 percent.

Mark Pestrella, deputy director for the county Public Works Department, said the rates depend upon who is the wholesaler in a given area.

Levine said that individual lessees will decide how to reconcile the new rates within their own business practices.

“The members of the association will each determine how to absorb or pass on these additional costs, depending upon their individual circumstances,” the association president explained. “Many of the association members have already instituted water conservation programs, especially in light of the recent rules adopted by the county in response to the current water shortage.”

The Boatyard has installed flow restrictors in its showers and restrooms, and also added energy-efficient devices to conserve water, Schem said.

“We’re also working to educate slip tenants about the appropriate times and ways to wash their boats,” he added.

Levine feels it is unfortunate that the rise in water bills comes at an inopportune time for residents and businesses.

“The association is greatly concerned that these significant increases in water costs are being assessed during these difficult economic times,” Levine said.

“Regrettably, there are no alternative water sources available to the lessees and other consumers in Marina del Rey, which might otherwise result in competitive pricing.”

Petrella said the county had few options other than increasing its prices for water delivery.

“It’s regrettable that we have to raise (water) rates, but it’s unavoidable due to the water shortage,” he said.

DeLange said he understands the water shortage and the responsibility that county officials have in determining how water supplies are managed, but hopes that they are not increased for the wrong reasons.

“As long as the benefits do not go to people with the ability to pay, including utility shareholders, there arguably could be a case that (raising the water utility rates) could restrain our tendency to waste water,” he conceded.

Marina del Rey homeowners can take advantage of a state law passed last spring that allows residents who live in townhomes or condominiums to install water-efficient landscaping.

State Assemblyman Ted Lieu, whose district includes Marina del Rey, sponsored the legislation, Assembly Bill 1061.

“About 25 percent of the public live in common interest developments,” Lieu explained. “California is heading into a record fourth year of drought, and we are facing the worst water crisis in modern history.”

Many of Lieu’s Marina constituents, like Michael Rosenfeld, reside in common interest developments, such as townhomes and condominium associations.

“We know that there is a chronic water shortage, and providing a way to put in drought resistant landscaping has a lot of merit,” said Rosenfeld, a townhouse owner who resides in Marina Strand Colony II. “Especially where the individual homeowner can control the amount of water that they use.”

Rosenfeld lives in the part of Marina del Rey that belongs to Los Angeles. “So I’m not affected by the water rate increase,” he said.

Levine encouraged everyone who lives in or visits Marina del Rey to remember that the state is suffering through a drought.

“We hope our residents, boaters, and visitors will all bear in mind that it is in everyone’s interest to act responsibly and to conserve water, no matter what the cost,” Levine said. “The association will continue to advocate appropriate conservation measures to protect our water supplies.”

Petrella said the county is not the only government entity that will raise its prices for water this year and consumers statewide will see additional increases as well.

“You can expect that all water agencies will be increasing their water rates over the next several years,” he predicted.The new utility rates will take effect within 30 days.