Court rules tiered water rates violate state constitution

Staff and Wire reports, SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS

In a ruling with major implications for California’s water conservation efforts during the historic drought, a state appeals court on Monday ruled that a tiered water rate structure used by the city of San Juan Capistrano to encourage saving was unconstitutional.

The Orange County city used a rate structure that charged customers who used small amounts of water a lower rate than customers who used larger amounts.

But the 4th District Court of Appeal struck down San Juan Capistrano’s fee plan, saying it violated voter-approved Proposition 218, which prohibits government agencies from charging more for a service than it costs to provide it.

Piedmont Middle School Green Team members Chloe Hood, 13, from left, Marta Symkowick, 13, and Lani Shea, 14, finish up spraying some drought tolerant plants with recycled water, Tuesday, March 31, 2015, in Piedmont, Calif. The program, taught by John White and Stella Kennedy, was recently honored by the Piedmont City Council for analyzing the city’s water use. (D. Ross Cameron/Bay Area News Group) ( D. ROSS CAMERON )

The stakes are high because at least two-thirds of California water providers, including many in the Bay Area, use some form of the tiered rate system.

Gov. Jerry Brown immediately lashed out at the decision, saying it puts "a straitjacket on local government at a time when maximum flexibility is needed. My policy is and will continue to be: Employ every method possible to ensure water is conserved across California."

Brown added state lawyers are now reviewing the decision.

Read more via California drought: Court rules tiered water rates violate state constitution – San Jose Mercury News.