Teresa Morse sticks her hand under the faucet in her bathroom in Golden Hill on March 10, 2023. Morse says it can take several minutes to get warm water.
File photo by Ariana Drehsler

Brigitte Browning is the executive secretary-treasurer of the San Diego & Imperial Counties Labor Council and Carol Kim is the business manager of the San Diego County & Construction Trades Council and the CEO of the San Diego County Building Trades Council Family Housing Corporation.  

Imagine going to dinner with a large group where everyone orders a full meal and one couple leaves just as the bill arrives. Unfortunately, this “dine and dash” is happening right now in San Diego County. Except it’s not just friends at dinner but rather two water districts attempting to leave us all with a tab of more than $200 million as they form a new partnership in Riverside.  

What does this mean for the rest of us? All our water bills will go up as we’re forced to foot the bill.

It all started in the early 1990s, when San Diego County had only one source of water and was experiencing one of the worst droughts in history. That’s when all our region’s 24 water agencies collectively embarked on a plan to invest billions of dollars over several decades to diversify our water sources. Together, they constructed one of the largest dam raises in America, forged historic ag-to-urban water transfers, lined hundreds of miles of earthen canals and developed the largest ocean desalination plant in the western hemisphere.

As a result of this collaboration, San Diego County now has the most secure water system in all of California. While other parts of the state have faced mandatory cutbacks the last few summers, San Diego has avoided that same fate thanks to these collective investments.

Now the Rainbow Municipal Water District and Fallbrook Public Utilities District have submitted an application to detach from the San Diego County Water Authority and instead receive wholesale water service from Riverside. These two agencies and their customers have greatly benefitted from the collective investments they participated in, but now they’re trying to leave without paying their share of the costs.

An independent analysis found the proposed detachment will shift their $200 million debt onto the remaining 22 members of the San Diego County Water Authority.

This means our region’s working families, seniors, disabled, veterans, single parents, small business owners and those on fixed incomes will now pay more for their water every month by no fault of their own.

We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of San Diegans who cannot afford — and should not have to pay — $2 to $5 to $20 a month more because of the departure of these two agencies.

A loophole in state law governing water agency detachments calls for a vote of the departing customers but denies a voice to the communities that will be burdened with these added costs. If these two water districts want to leave us with their tab, then we should all be allowed to vote.

Assemblymember Tasha Boerner has recognized this gross inequity and authored AB 399, the Water Ratepayers Protection Act, to close this loophole and protect us from unnecessary water bill hikes.

This good-governance bill will ensure a vote for ALL of those impacted by proposed water district detachments, aligning the rules for water agency departures with those for municipal de-annexations. Doing so will improve transparency and allow San Diego County voters to determine if the benefits of detachment proposals warrant added costs to their monthly bills.

AB 399 will ensure there is no taxation without representation and provide a necessary safeguard for the region’s ratepayers. We urge all our elected representatives to support this bill and give us a say on this $200 million overcharge.

Join the Conversation


  1. Maybe the 37000 are looking for a better deal and fairer treatment!
    That’s the American way, perhaps the 3.3 million should ask why instead of dictating to 37000.

  2. This is not a dine and dash situation. Rainbow and Fallbrook will have to pay an exit fee and they do not have a direct connection to infrastructure projects that mostly contributed towards the 200 million debt that SDCWA holds.

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