Los Angeles officials are proud to say that the city is using the same amount of water now that it did 40 years ago, despite having more than 1 million additional residents.
But amid California's epic drought, that's not enough. Under Gov. Jerry Brown's new drought order, Los Angeles — along with other urban areas across the state — must cut water usage by 25%.
Los Angeles has a head start compared with many other cities because Mayor Eric Garcetti last year called for a 20% cut in water use by 2017, and officials said the city is on target to meet that goal.
The city has increased enforcement of its water rules and plans to change its rate structure in the coming months to encourage additional conservation. If that doesn't work, the city could impose tougher new rules, such as banning residents from filling swimming pools and washing their cars at home.
Other communities, such as landscape-lush Beverly Hills, Newport Beach and the Palm Springs area, are using much more water per capita. They will be in for dramatic cuts.
State water officials plan to tell cities soon how much they must reduce water usage over the coming year. Communities with higher per-capita water consumption numbers will be forced to reduce consumption more than those with lower levels.
Reduction targets will probably be calculated using residential per-capita water usage data from 2014, giving communities that have already boosted conservation an advantage.
For the Record: An earlier version of this post incorrectly said the reduction targets would be determined based on 2013 data.
“This is the worst drought we've ever had to deal with, so there are going to have to be very significant cutbacks,” said Max Gomberg, a scientist with the State Water Resources Control Board. “For some people, this is going to require big-time changes.”
Some of the Southland's biggest water users are taking notice.
Beverly Hills, which does not fine water wasters, is “developing a plan that will achieve the governor's 25% consumption reduction goal.” It will be presented to the City Council soon, a city spokeswoman said.
The Santa Fe Irrigation District, which serves upscale communities in northern San Diego County, recently began sending engineers to large properties to perform water savings checkups that identify areas of waste, General Manager Michael Bardin said.
Arcadia's City Council on Tuesday will discuss a proposed new ordinance that would limit lawn watering to three days a week, said Tom Tait, the city's public works services director. Following Brown's executive order this week, which ordered cities to stop watering street medians, Tait drove around town to figure out how many grassy medians the city could replace with mulch.
“We have got to do a better job,” Tait said.
Even agencies that use relatively little water are cutting back.
The Long Beach Water Department issued its first water-related fine in late March. After receiving more than 30 complaints about a local McDonald's and sending a warning, the department fined the restaurant $800.
The restaurant paid Monday, according to Kevin Wattier, the Water Department's general manager, and it is moving quickly to replace its sprinklers and remove a grassy area.
Wattier said the agency realized its credibility with water customers would suffer if it allowed flagrant watering violations.
If present water savings continue, Angelenos may be able to weather the governor's latest demands, said Marty Adams, a senior assistant general manager at the DWP. Measures that the city already has in place are “very much in sync with what the governor wants,” he said.
Los Angeles is expected to use about 117 gallons per person per day this summer, Adams said, a 10% decrease from early 2014.
Still, Adams said the department is considering changing its rate structure to encourage water conservation. The revision, which would have to be approved by the City Council, would expand Los Angeles' price tiers from two to four, making high water use more costly.
In the last year, the DWP has also increased enforcement of its water regulations. The public made 8,400 complaints to the department about water waste, Adams said. Inspectors performed 2,000 site inspections and sent 7,300 letters and citations. The department issued eight $100 fines and two $200 fines for violations of watering restrictions.
“It tells us most of the people get the message the first time out,” Adams said.
On Friday, Garcetti said he believes Los Angeles is on track to meet the governor's mandates. He said Brown's office has cited the city's conservation efforts as an example for the state, a fact he hopes the water board will consider when it develops conservation targets.
In the Coachella Valley — more than 100 miles east of Los Angeles — water officials were scrambling to figure out how to slash use. The Coachella Valley Water District used more than 237 residential gallons of water per person in January — more than three times what Los Angeles residents used. Much of the valley's water is consumed by its hot, dry climate, residents' verdant yards and more than 120 golf courses that collectively use about 37 billion gallons a year.
In a resort community, changing people's expectation “of what things are going to look like … is always a barrier,” said Patti Reyes, the water district's planning and special programs manager. She predicted that Brown's mandate could “change the landscape of California.”
In the desert, meeting Brown's mandate won't be easy, Reyes said.
“Is it possible? I don't know,” she said. “We've struggled with how we can do better.”
Times staff writer Bettina Boxall contributed to this report.