California Water Association (CWA) Executive Director Jack Hawks summarized various solutions the California Public Utilities Commission has established in recent years to address the affordability and sustainability challenges facing utility customers and small water utility systems during a panel discussion at the March 15 symposium in Sacramento hosted by the Regional Water Authority (RWA). Following introductory remarks by Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, two panels identified challenges and potential solutions for “Making Safe, Clean, Affordable, and Accessible Water a Reality,” the theme of the symposium.
Speaking to a packed house, Mayor Steinberg launched the event by encouraging attendees to embrace “principled compromise” while listening to the panel discussions. According to RWA’s news release, Mayor Steinberg explained that, “Principled compromise is not some Pollyanna notion that you should give up for the greater good. Principled compromise is when you recognize that you need to do something, because if you don’t, the consequences of inaction are going to be worse than what you may have to give up in order to achieve the compromise.”
The first panel identified the challenges of making safe, clean, affordable, and accessible water a reality from statewide and ground-level perspectives, and panel members shared how their organizations are addressing the challenges. The second panel explored proposed legislative solutions, as well as the solutions being implemented by California’s regulated water utilities.
During his presentation on the second panel, Hawks explained the commonality of small water systems and outlined several solutions that the CPUC has instituted in the past 10 years. These include: low-income rate assistance (LIRA) programs for customers; consolidating smaller systems; and providing them with technical, managerial, and financial assistance, such as grants, operational assistance and regulatory guidance. Hawks noted that all of California’s largest regulated water utilities offer LIRA programs, which benefit about 19 percent of their residential customers who receive monthly discounts on their water bills averaging about $9.50.