California’s residential water pricing is highly variable, with some of the state’s poorest communities paying many times more for water than neighboring towns and cities. We talked to JR DeShazo—director of the Luskin Center for Innovation at UCLA and a member of the PPIC Water Policy Center research network—about his work to document the inequities of water pricing in Southern California.
PPIC: What prompted you to research water pricing, and what did you learn?
JR DeShazo: A reporter from the Los Angeles Times asked me if I knew how many retail water agencies there are in LA, and how they vary in cost for service and approaches to water conservation. I couldn’t answer his questions. When we started to research these topics, we found that there wasn’t a good source of information. Even the State Water Board had only very limited information, especially on many of the smaller systems. So we embarked on a mission to gather as much information as possible on Los Angeles County’s 223 retail agencies, and compiled it into a water atlas and policy guide. It maps the county’s huge pricing variability—the highest-cost system charges 10 times that of the lowest-cost system. So for example, water bills in Pico Rivera average less than $200 per family a year. Very close by in Lynwood, that same amount of water costs a family more than $1,500. The atlas also includes information about water sources and contamination from pollutants, climate change risks, and other variables that could pose a threat.
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