Helix Water District will use  $2.8 million received from the San Diego County Water Authority as part of a legal settlement with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California to reduce future water rate increases for the district’s customers.

The Water Authority announced a plan on February 25 to distribute $44.4 million to its 24 member agencies after receiving a check for that amount from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California to pay legal damages and interest resulting from a decade-long rate case. The Water Authority sued Metropolitan for overcharges on imported water, and then sent a portion of the damages received to member agencies based on each agency’s overpayments from 2011 to 2014.

“This issue directly impacted Helix and our customers,” said Helix General Manager Carlos Lugo. “Our board is really pleased that the Water Authority recovered the overcharges and is returning the money so that we can return it to our customers, by reducing future rate adjustments.”

The Helix board voted on March 3, after a year of financial analysis and cost-cutting measures, to move ahead with an April 28 public hearing on water rate adjustments over the next two years.

To minimize the proposed rate increases, the district will use $5 million from its rate stabilization fund, defer $3 million in planned pre-payments to the California Public Employees Retirement System and defer $2 million in planned investment in the district’s infrastructure.

“We’re doing everything we can to keep rates low and help our customers,” said Helix Board President Joel Scalzitti. “Putting $2.8 million back into our depleted rate stabilization fund will certainly help.”

In 2020, the Helix board approved a zero rate increase and froze late payment fees and shutoffs for nonpayment in the wake of widespread job losses. On February 24, the board approved the Helix Helps Customer Assistance Program, which will start on April 5 and offer a one-time credit of up to $300 for Helix single-family residential customers who are behind on their water bills and can document that they have been financially impacted by the pandemic.