News Archive

AWA Consolidation Bad for Ratepayers

Amador Water Agency (AWA) Directors are taking steps to consolidate all of the water systems into a single system in order to make it more difficult for local ratepayers to stop unwarranted rate increases. Also, consolidating to one large system will make it impossible for the public to understand the costs of operating any of their water systems.

Currently, AWA operates five water systems. The largest is Amador Water System (AWS), which serves Amador City, Drytown, Ione, Jackson, Martell, Plymouth, Sutter Creek, and some nearby areas. The next largest is the Central Amador Water Project (CAWP) wholesale system in the upcountry, which serves Pine Grove, Gayla Manor, Ranch House Estates, Red Corral, Pioneer, Buckhorn, Mace Meadows, Silver Lake Pines, and Raab Park. The CAWP Retail system servers most of those areas, and four independent districts serve the rest. The third largest is at Lake Camanche and the smallest is La Mel Heights on Shake Ridge Road.

AWA wants to combine these very different and disconnected systems into a single entity. The consequence would be that rate increases would apply to all systems. AWA claims that the rates would, in general, be different in each system- reflecting the various circumstances of each system. But in order for ratepayers to protest a rate increase they thought was unfair, a majority in the combined system would have to sign a special form.

Why does AWA say consolidation is necessary? Only one reason has been given for consolidating the systems- that it will be easier to account for common costs. The example AWA cites is the building at the Tanner facility. Some of the salaries and benefits of certain employees, such as the General Manager, also apply to all systems.

The problem with the “easier accounting” argument is two fold. First, the costs common to all of the water systems are also common to all of the wastewater systems. But the wastewater systems are not being consolidated. Second, the common costs are nothing new. In the past, rates for each system have been calculated while taking into account the common costs.

Will consolidation mean that ratepayers in one system will be paying for facilities they do not use? According to AWA, the costs of the systems will all be kept separate. However, that is not what AWA actually does.

A few years ago AWA consolidated several small wastewater systems. Prior to the consolidation, records were kept for each system. After consolidation, AWA stopped keeping separate records so that it is no longer possible for ratepayers (or anyone else) to determine what the cost of operating each individual system is.

One particular project has been questioned in connection with consolidation. If all the water systems are consolidated, will ratepayers in the AWS, Camanche and Le Mel systems be made to pay for the expensive GSL project in the CAWP system? AWA says that will not happen, but it is already happening.

AWS has two treatment plants, one at Tanner and one in Ione. The cost of operating both treatment plants is paid by all AWS customers, even though the Ione plant is only of any use to the customers in Ione and vicinity.

Considering that the AWA Directors refused to even disclose the costs of operating the Camanche water system to the ratepayers, it is very unlikely that costs will be honestly accounted in a consolidated system.

Whether the ploy to disenfranchise ratepayers works will be determined when a rate increase is requested by the Directors.