Amid drought, mayor directs L.A. to cut water use 20% by 2017

Amid drought, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti targets citywide reduction in fresh water use of 20% by 2017

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti issued an executive directive on Tuesday requiring Los Angeles to reduce its fresh water use 20% by 2017 as a response to the prolonged drought.

Garcetti also asked L.A. departments to dramatically cut the amount of water used by replacing lawns and other city landscaping, including street medians, with less thirsty plants.

"Our relationship with water must evolve," Garcetti said. "We cannot afford the water policies of the past. We must conserve, recycle and rethink how we use our water to save money and make sure that we have enough water to keep L.A. growing."

The mayor also directed that the city's Department of Water and Power reduce its purchases of costlier imported water by 50% by the year 2024.

Flanked by city and environmental leaders at a news conference held at the DWP headquarters, Garcetti said it was important to address outdoor water use -- which makes up half of residential water consumption.

There were no new mandatory restrictions announced Tuesday for residents. But Garcetti asked them to voluntarily reduce their outdoor watering to two days a week. The mayor asked them to use DWP rebates to install landscaping that is drought-resistant, and to install more efficient plumbing fixtures and appliances.

The mayor said that if water reduction targets are not met by a combination of mandatory city actions and voluntary steps by residents, then residential restrictions will be mandated -- including restrictions on watering and washing cars.

"Keep in mind that reducing water use is not just good for the environment, it lowers water bills," Garcetti said. "Reaching our target and reducing per capita water use by 20% would save our ratepayers up to $120 million" a year.

Water use in California has generally been going down.

After a slow start, the State Water Resources Control Board reported that Southern California sharply cut its urban water production in August, down 7.8% from the same month in 2013. Locally, DWP cut its use by 8.8% compared to the previous year. But both numbers fell short of the statewide 11.5% water-use reduction and were far below Gov. Jerry Brown’s goal of a 20% reduction.

After the release of the state data, Garcetti said he was "grateful that Angelenos are stepping up" but cautioned “we must do more to further reduce our reliance on expensive imported water.”

The move comes as the DWP has stepped up enforcement of its water conservation ordinance, which places restrictions on behaviors such as outdoor watering, washing down sidewalks and allowing runoff into streets. The water agency quadruped the size of its response unit, sending more staff to crack down on residential water waste.

But the effort has been met with some pushback from locals who have spotted waste by the city itself. DWP has already received more than 4,000 water waste complaints in 2014, some of which are related to leaky sprinklers or runoff on city property.

A City Council committee is expected to take up a motion Tuesday afternoon that would end irrigation of large lawns that are located on city property. The lawns would eventually be replaced with native and drought-tolerant landscaping, though lawns used for recreation would not be affected.

The motion acknowledges that with its often lush landscaping, Los Angeles sometimes sends “mixed messages about the crucial importance of conserving water." 

Follow @MattStevensLAT on Twitter for drought coverage, Westside reports and breaking news.

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