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The Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is set to vote today on a series of rate hikes that have been bitterly contested by the San Diego County Water Authority.

A new Metropolitan budget seeks to raise rates charged to its 26 customers, of which San Diego is the largest, by 7.5% next year and another 5% in 2014. San Diego seeks to cap these rate increases at 3% annually, calling on the District to cut spending rather than increase rates.

The offensive by San Diego has reached a level uncommon for spats between government agencies. The Authority has posted a website attacking Metropolitan for its “spending problems,” and last week filed a lawsuit against the Los Angeles Department of Power & Water, seeking information on meetings where the Authority alleges Metropolitan member agency managers arranged in secret to fix votes of Metropolitan’s board of directors.

“I found this to be unprecedented in my 25 years of working in public agencies,” says Metropolitan general manager Jeffrey Kightlinger.

Over the last quarter-century, San Diego has decreased its reliance on Metropolitan as a source of water. Where the region used to purchase 95 percent of its water directly from Metropolitan, the agency now supplies less than half of the total demand. A large portion of that water, however, still flows from the Imperial Valley using transportation systems owned by Metropolitan, which levies separate fees on those who buy its water and those who use its pipelines and aqueducts. San Diego officials have also argued that this rate structure is unfair, and passes hidden costs unrelated to water transport on to San Diegans.

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