Los Angeles Dept. of Water and Power Pursues “Customer First” Agenda: An interview with Commissioner William Funderburk

CHPC’s water affordability initiative works to increase access to water conservation resources for the nonprofit multifamily affordable rental housing sector in California. Below is the third article in a GREEN series focused on leaders, best practices, and emerging trends for water conservation in affordable housing. 

GREEN members are responding to the drought. These are their stories.

Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) is the largest municipal utility in the United States. The new Board of Commissioners, General Manager, and Mayor Eric Garcetti are committed to improving energy and water affordability, reliability, resilience and sustainability for all ratepayers through a “Customer First” agenda.  In this blog, Vice President Commissioner William Funderburk shares his vision of DWP’s future and how low-income households will benefit.

DWP’s new General Manager David Wright has shown a strong commitment to customer service. What does Wright bring to this new role that will help the Department ensure affordable rates and reliable service for all ratepayers?  How is DWP supporting low-income families in rent-restricted multifamily housing? 

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William Funderburk serves as the Vice President of the LADWP Board of Commissioners

David Wright’s leadership is grounded in a commitment to the well-being of all ratepayers. We recognize that low-income households tend to use the least amount of energy and water per capita. They benefit from tiered energy and water rates that are based on essential uses to incentivize conservation and ensure affordability for all households. Approximately 68 percent of our residential water customers and 56 percent of our power customers are in the lower tier.  

Affordable housing owners can make energy and water saving improvements with our Small Business Direct Install program for common areas, Home Energy Improvement Program for tenant spaces, and free and low-cost water rebates. Wright’s strong and proven track record for improving customer service and department performance is already transforming DWP, which are important first steps in supporting low-income renters and nonprofit affordable housing owners. He led solutions for critical billing system errors, helped the Department increase its JD Power score by 18 points in one year for power utilities and rank in the top three California utilities and top ten in the country for commercial service by Market Strategies International.

In 2016, DWP became the first utility in the country to adopt an Equity Metrics Data Initiative (EMDI). You championed this effort with Commissioner Christina Noonan believing that it will help the Department improve its overall performance by examining regional service, program, and infrastructure disparities.  What does this mean for low-income ratepayers in 2017? 

DWP is the first utility in the nation to make a comprehensive enterprise-wide effort to reach all customers well. The Equity Metrics Data Initiative (EMDI), which will be presented for the first time to the DWP Board of Commissioners in March, focuses on water and power reliability, employment, procurement and customer incentive and rebate programs. What this means for low-income ratepayers is that with EMDI we have the tools to make data-driven policy changes.  We currently offer a variety of assistance and rebate programs to help low-income families in our service area manage energy and water costs, which also helps with housing affordability.  The Department has 1.6 million customer accounts. Approximately 134,000 of the 1.3 million residential accounts are multifamily customers. EMDI helps us evaluate our incentive and rebate programs to ensure that all eligible customers are enrolled and aware of these resources.

Southern California has had several rain storms this winter season. While it may feel like the drought has ended, scientists and public officials believe that the drought is a long-term and ongoing condition. How can DWP and ratepayers work together to ensure a sustainable future for all of us?

DWP follows Mayor Eric Garcetti’s leadership on water conservation and drought response. We must reduce per capita potable water use by 20 percent by 2017, reduce the Department’s purchase of imported potable water by 50 percent by 2024, and get half of the city’s water from local sources by 2035. Multifamily affordable housing owners should take advantage of our free and low-cost multifamily water incentive programs under commercial rebates. Improving local water supplies is a critical first step and we are working closely with the Department of Public Works to capture more storm water when it rains. Together, with the support of all Angelenos, we can create more sustainable and affordable water supplies for all. 

DWP’s electricity and water rates are among the most affordable in Southern California. How has the Department been able to maintain affordable rates and reliable service while embracing efficiency, conservation, and renewables?

Improving ratepayer confidence in DWP is fundamental to maintaining affordable rates and reliable service. We resolved billing system errors, shortened caller wait times and solar installation periods, and minimized estimated bills. We got ratepayers through the energy crisis without blackouts, the drought without water contamination or loss, and made significant investments in renewable energy all without major rate increases. This strengthened the Department’s credit score allowing us to pursue innovative efficiency, equity, and renewable programs that modernize energy and water systems and benefit ratepayers. We have not had a major rate adjustment for water since 2009 and power since 2012. Aligning rates with current cost of service through the approved rate changes will create $330 million over the next five years ($66 million per year) to ensure that DWP can maintain affordable and reliable service while meeting regulatory requirements and expanding local supplies.

William Funderburk Bio

William Funderburk is an authority on water and energy policy. He currently works as a partner at the law firm of Castellon & Funderburk, handling government initiated and private party enforcement litigation and regulatory compliance. He has served on the National Phase II Storm Water Advisory Board, the California Environmental Liability Insurance Task Force and the Environmental Justice Legal Task Force, and the Los Angeles Environmental Crimes Sentencing Task Force.  Funderburk has also served on the board of EnvironMentors Project, Wildlife on Wheels, and the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council. Mr. Funderburk received his law degree from Georgetown University, and his undergraduate degree in Engineering and Applied Science from Yale University. 

The Department of Water and Power is the nation’s largest municipally owned utility.  The Board of Water and Power Commissioners establishes policy for the Department.  Commissioners are appointed by the Mayor and approved by the City Council.

Related Articles

Self-Help Enterprises Responds to Drought in San Joaquin Valley – November 3, 2016

Eden Housing “Water Warriors” Cut Water use by 20 Percent – September 19, 2016

“Using Data to inform Energy and Water Retrofits:  Q&A with Tabitha Harrison at Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation (TNDC)”  – March 7, 2016

CHPC’s water conservation work is generously made possible through the California Drought Action Initiative program of Resources Legacy Fund. To learn more about CHPC’s water conservation advocacy efforts, contact Collin at or (213) 785-5734.