Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Calif State Can't Protect Groundwater & L.A. DWP Can't Collect Bills

The agencies charged with overseeing oil production and protecting California's water sources from the industry's pollution all fell down on the job. The California Department of Conservation, the department's Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources and the state Water Resources Control Board promised  a top-down overhaul of their regulation of the disposal of oil field wastewater.

Some state legislators have characterized agency practices as corrupt and inept.  Agency officials have attributed the errors to haphazard record-keeping and antiquated data collection. And they have said that initial tests on nine drinking water supply wells found no benzene or other contaminants. The federal Environmental Protection Agency has called the state's errors "shocking" and said California's oil field wastewater injection program does not comply with the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

State legislators believed it was not a lack of regulation (new laws). but a lack of enforcement of existing regulations.  State regulatory officials have noted that the oil industry's technology had outpaced the state's regulations, many of which have remained unchanged for decades.

Meanwhile, the botched rollout of a new billing system at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power disrupted the utility's ability to collect unpaid bills, helping to drive the total to $681 million late last year, a state audit of the system has found.

Customer confusion over late and estimated bills after a new "Customer Care & Billing" system went live in September 2013 produced a flood of calls to DWP's customer service lines. As officials diverted the workforce to answering phone calls and issuing corrected bills, collections fell further behind, the audit found.

Before the system went live, the DWP carried about $436 million in uncollected bills. The billing problem added another $245 million to the debt. The total shortfall includes both residential and commercial billings.

The L.A. City Attorney filed a lawsuit alleging that PricewaterhouseCoopers intentionally misled DWP managers about its ability to help the utility implement the system. The global accounting firm responded that it did its job well and that the DWP was trying to make the vendor a scapegoat.  (L.A.Times, 3/10/2015, L.A. Times, 3/10/2015)

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