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An administrative law judge on Tuesday cleared the way for a possible rate reduction on water bills paid by Bay Point residents.

Under the proposal, the average residential monthly water bill in Bay Point would decrease by 4.2 percent in 2013 through 2015, or from about $61 to $56 based on usage of about 200 gallons a day. The rate decrease would be effective immediately and retroactive to January, if approved by the Public Utilities Commission, which could take up the matter as soon as its April 18 meeting.

But while rates would be lower under the proposal, they would still be higher than the $44 monthly residential bill for the same amount of water — 200 gallons a day -- charged to residential customers directly served by the Contra Costa Water District. Golden State officials had initially sought a 14-percent rate hike for Bay Point residential customers over the three-year period, saying it was needed to maintain the system's aging infrastructure and to make capital improvements to provide better service. Consumer advocates argued that Golden State had adequate revenues and there was no need for a rate hike.

But water conservation efforts by the estimated 5,300 Bay Point households was a major factor in a company decision to later lower its revenue requirements, Golden State district manager Paul Schubert said Wednesday.

"That's the primary driver. Revenue requirements dropped because of a reduction in water use by our customers," he said. "The last thing we want is a rate increase."

Still, he pointed out, water usage is just one factor when it comes to water bills. He said fixed costs -- things like maintaining pipelines -- are a larger cost and remain the same, even if people use less water.

The proposed decision actually stems from a settlement agreement reached with representatives from Golden State, The Utility Reform Network, and the PUC's Division of Ratepayer Advocates after the company filed for rate hikes in 2011 in the three regions it serves in California.

Administrative Law Judge Richard Smith held 12 public hearings across the state, including one in Bay Point in November 2011, to gather testimony from residents and elected officials.

"The voices from Bay Point residents were heard and heeded," said Supervisor Federal Glover, whose district includes the unincorporated community of Bay Point.

Bay Point fared better than several other communities served by Golden State in Southern California including Barstow, Culver City and San Gabriel Valley that could see rate hikes of around 14 percent under the proposed decision.

"The people of this community are thankful that Judge Smith saw fit to decrease rates paid by the residents of Bay Point. Although we appreciate the rate decrease, I feel badly for the people of Southern California who are being billed tremendous amounts for their water usage," Val Molica, a Bay Point resident who has advocated for lower rates, wrote in an email.

Contact Eve Mitchell at 925-779-7189. Follow her on Twitter.com/EastCounty_Girl.