More than a dozen Keene residents say they're being railroaded by the multi-billion dollar railroad company that supplies their water.
"They’re big wigs, we're not, and they know it,” says Clifford Kimes, a Keene resident. “They have the fighting power. We have only a little bit to work with."
Just last month, Union Pacific Railroad told its 22 Keene customers that it's planning to raise their water rates by 290 percent to recoup costs for trucking in water from Tehachapi.
“Honestly, I’m at a loss at trying to find an economical way to provide water,” says Bob Bylsma, a railroad representative. “There were 35 customers here. Now, there’s 22, so the reality with that is you have higher costs now shared by fewer customers.”
Residents vented at a public meeting Thursday night in Keene with analyst Moises Chavez from the California Public Utilities Commission.
"If it’s $15,000 per person’s water connection, who’s going to be able to afford that? Pretty much no one can," says Eric Jenkins, a Keene resident. “So no one’s going to pay the thousands of dollars. They’re going to disconnect and buy water from some trucking company. If you start raising the rates, people can’t afford it, and they’ll drop out of the system.”
Residents are being told their water rates could go from $200 a month to over $600. The rate increase is unfathomable for many residents living on fixed incomes.
"We’ve been paying over $200. We can’t even drink that comes in corroded, it corrodes up our plumbing, our hot water heater is filled with rocks and sediments,” says Rita Fischer, a Keene resident since 1987. “What I would like to see done is for them to take responsibility and fix it back the way it was before they broke it in the first place.”
Albert Rodriguez says the water he poured from his faucet for his neighbor's dogs on Thursday is already green.
"It looks like swamp water with things swirling around like algae," he says.
Clifford Kimes and his wife live on $1,500 dollars a month and say there's no way they could pay the increased water rates.
"We're barely getting by with what we got, and they want to do this to us?” Kimes says. “That's not right."
The utilities commission division's analyst will make a detailed analysis of Keene’s expenses and of any requested capital improvements. In about four months, a draft resolution will be circulated for 30 days before the commission will vote on the rate increase.