A Los Angeles City Council committee heard public debate Tuesday over the amount that a massive project known as the California Water Fix could add to the water bills of local ratepayers.

According to a study by the city’s Office of Public Accountability/Ratepayer Advocate, it could be as little as $1.73 per month. But project opponent cite an independent study concluding the cost could be more than $7 a month.

The California Water Fix is an $18 billion to $26 billion proposal to build giant underground tunnels to route Sacramento River water under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The water would flow into the California Aqueduct for use by farms and homes to the south. The idea is to keep the river water out of the Delta to protect the Delta ecosystem and improve the quality and amount of water coming to users in Central and Southern California.

Members of the council’s Energy, Climate Change and Environmental Justice Committee were not ready Tuesday to vote on the whether to recommend the city support the project.

City Councilman Paul Krekorian, who represents parts of the San Fernando Valley, says he’s not sold on the idea.

“There’s a lot of things that we have to invest in, and this is only one of them. And I just don’t know if it’s the best one,” Krekorian told the committee. Councilwoman Nury Martinez, who chairs the committee, had asked that any vote on the project be delayed until its next meeting, Sept. 19.

The plan goes before the Metropolitan Water District board in late September.

Representatives of Food & Water Watch, Los Angeles Waterkeeper, Consumer Watchdog and Southern California Watershed Alliance sent a letter to Martinez on Monday calling the project a “colossal waste of public dollars for a project that will not bring any new water to Los Angeles."

Meanwhile, business groups like the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and the Valley Industry Commerce Association and a few union groups spoke in favor of the project because it would support a continued water supply for the region and potentially create new jobs.

The Office of Public Accountability, which reviews DWP actions from a ratepayer advocacy perspective, said the Water Fix project would be affordable to Los Angeles households.

The project would add about $1.73 to the monthly $60 water bill of the median single family household, said Fred Pickel, executive director of the OPA.

Single-family households would be paying between 87 cents and $4.31 per month in added costs, when other contributions such as property taxes and DWP water charges are included in the calculations, Pickel’s report said.

That $1.73 per month estimate is quite a bit lower than the $5 per month added cost estimate put out by the project’s advocates.

Pickel’s lower estimate is based on the expectation that the city’s reliance on imported water will diminish in future years and that by 2040 it would receive only 2.1 percent of the water the tunnel project delivers.  The added cost of the project would be paid proportionally by the water agencies that receive the water, with those costs passed on to ratepayers.

But opponents disagree with that assumption. Consumer Watchdog, for example, says the estimate understates the cost to households because it does not include expenses like interest, operating costs and construction overruns. 

The OPA report assumed potential cost overruns of 36 percent, and does, in fact, include interest and operating expenses, Pickel said.

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