San Juan Capistrano Tiered Water-Use Rates Ruled Unconstitutional by State Appellate Court

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An appeals court decision handed down Monday has thrown into question a major component of California's drought conservation efforts.

California's 4th District Court of Appeal found that San Juan Capistrano's tiered water rate structure was unconstitutional because it charged more for water than it cost the city to provide the service.

The court said the city's policy — which penalized water guzzlers with higher rates — failed to base the fees on the actual cost of providing water to customers, as required under Proposition 218.

At least two-thirds of California water agencies use some type of tiered structure, which officials say has been an effective tool for encouraging customers to use less water. The remaining agencies use a flat-rate structure based on the units of water consumed.

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