California court rules against tiered payment system for water usage

The city of San Juan Capistrano, California, is using a tiered system to charge residents for water usage as a way of encouraging water conservation due to the state’s new water laws. But a state appeals court ruled that the city’s system is unconstitutional, possibly setting a precedent for other cities with a tiered rate.

According to San Jose Mercury News, the city charges residents who use more water at a higher rate than those who use less. On Monday, the 4th District Court of Appeal found that the fee system violates California’s Proposition 218, which says government agencies cannot charge more for a service than it costs to provide.

San Juan Capistrano, located in Orange County, is like two-thirds of California cities with a tiered fee system.

The new California water laws were put in place to reduce the state’s water consumption by 25 percent in the next nine months, since the state is currently in the fourth year of a serious drought. They went into effect on April 15, and include restrictions on when homeowners can water their lawn, and a ban on restaurants from serving water to customers unless requested. Fines can be up to $500, but it is up to local officials to enforce the laws. In addition, state water agencies have forced reduction limits by as much as 36 percent for some. To comply, many are enacting the tiered cost system.

Gov. Jerry Brown, who created the laws, said the recent San Juan Capistrano verdict is “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.”

According to the San Jose Mercury News, state lawyers are currently reviewing the decision.