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LA MESA, Calif. — The Helix Water District passed Wednesday night a plan that will spike water rates 56 percent over the next five years.

Hundreds of protesters pleaded with the water board members, but the controversial plan passed with a 3-to-2 vote.

Representatives of the water district, which serves La Mesa, El Cajon and Lemon Grove, told protesters the rate hike was caused by people using 28 percent less water. With less water sold, they explained, the water district has to make up for lost revenue.

Livid rate payers called the ordeal a broken social experiment, arguing they are being punished for what the water district asked them to do.

The first rate increase of 9 percent is expected to begin Nov. 1.