BARSTOW When Barstow resident Warren Leider opened a recent water bill, he said he was shocked to see the total due was $999.

Though he had conserved water, reducing his usage to almost half the amount prior, his Golden State Water Company bill was more than double his regular water payment. Already on utility assistance for electric and gas, Leider decided try for Golden State's bill assistance for low-income families.

The next month when he opened his bill with the assistance deduction he was shocked still to find only a $16 deduction.

"When I saw it, it was like, 'Why even bother?'" Leider said. "Why jump through all these hoops? It's going to make no difference."

Leider is not alone.

In the past months hundreds of customers have made complaints with their Golden State water bills, many paying multiple times more than their former bills. As a result the Concerned Citizens group was formed to help fight rising water bills.

Steven Agcaoili, utilities assistance coordinator for Desert Manna, said he's had hundred of calls for help with water bills. He said he used get only a few calls every couple of weeks. Now its hundreds each month.

"It's a sad, it's negative on my end when I have to talk to these people who need help with their (water) bills," Agcaoili said. "I have nothing. I have no answer for them."

Golden State's water assistance program does offer an $8 monthly credit for those who qualify. Perry Dahlstrom, Golden State district manager, said this total represents 15 percent of the average residential water bill for the region, which includes Barstow. According to Dahlstrom, the average residential customer in Barstow's region uses about 12 ccfs of water each month, which would be about a $50 monthly water bill.

Agcaoili said the assistance is not much compared to the electric or gas company assistance programs. Those usually pay 20 percent of the individual's bill.

Each water company's assistance program, including Golden State, is authorized by the California Public Utilities Commission. When a water company submits to the CPUC an application for proposed rates, they include what kind of assistance they will provide.

"GSWC cares about its customers and recognizes some customers are experiencing challenges paying their bills," Dahlstrom said in an e-mail. "For this reason, we also offer we offer bill-paying arrangements on a case-by-case basis."

Dahlstrom explained that a customer can spread out the amount while still agreeing to pay their future bills on time and in full.

Leider said his outstanding balance is about $2,000. Though he tried to work with Golden State to lower the balance into something more manageable, they said they could only allow him to make payments and offer him rate assistance. In addition to his present water bill, Leider has to pay $200 payments.

"It makes no sense," Leider said. "I'm never going to pay them off at this rate."

The CPUC is currently reviewing an application by Golden State Water Company requesting to increase rates. Before the CPUC approves the application they are holding community input meetings in Barstow. The meetings will be held at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 7 at the Cora Harper Fitness Center, 841 Barstow Road.

Contact the writer:
(760) 256-4123 or klucia@desertdispatch.com