L.A. County supervisors delay vote on water cuts after complaints

L.A. County residents contest calculations in proposed water conservation plan

Los Angeles County supervisors agreed Tuesday to postpone a vote on proposed water use restrictions for customers served by the county waterworks districts after residents expressed alarm at the reductions and questioned the method used to calculate target levels. 

Under the county's proposed plan, water customers in Marina del Rey, Kagel Canyon, Val Verde and Acton would have to reduce their use 25%. Customers in the Antelope Valley would have to reduce their use 32% and those in Malibu and Topanga would be required to cut back 36% or pay significantly higher rates for any excess.

The restrictions would impact about 250,000 people throughout the system, the majority of them in the Antelope Valley and Malibu.

Users who do not reduce their water consumption would pay substantial penalties. The water use target for most residential users would be calculated based on the average usage for the area in 2013. Rates will double for water use above the target and triple if use exceeds 115% of the target.

The proposed conservation plan came in response to an emergency executive order issued by California Gov. Jerry Brown in April, requiring a 25% statewide reduction in urban water use because of the state's ongoing drought. The reduction required for individual cities and communities was calculated based on their 2013 use.

Some customers who had been notified they would have to cut their usage by as much as 80% said the numbers had been miscalculated or that the formula -- which is based on average water use in each district -- was unfair to people with larger families. Several also said that the notices they received of Tuesday's hearing incorrectly stated the time of the meeting.

Andrew Chadd of Littlerock, an unincorporated area in Antelope Valley, said he had been notified his family would have to cut their use by 70%. Chadd said his family's bill could jump from $200 to $700 every two months.

"All my neighbors are single people and there are a couple [of] couples -- we have seven in the household," he said. "We were trying to figure out last night how we can do this and who's going to tell the kids that they can only use the bathroom on Monday and Friday."

Shirley Kohl of Palmdale said her household would be required to cut its use by nearly 80%. She said two-thirds of her half-acre lot was already xeriscaped.

"I would like to challenge the methodology," Kohl said. Calculating the targets based on districtwide average use, she said, is "definitely inequitable, and in 2015, I think you can get some software that can calculate this or hire some bookkeepers that can do these numbers."

At the request of Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, who represents the Antelope Valley, the supervisors agreed to postpone the vote by one week to look into the issues raised by the residents, meaning they will miss the state's June 1 deadline to implement the conservation measures. An attorney for the county said he did not expect the delay would result in the county being fined.

"I don't feel comfortable when we have specifics being presented to us, to move forward and adopt a policy that's not correct, perhaps," Antonovich said. "We can't be a responsible body unless we get the facts."

The supervisors also asked for a report on other county policies that could be changed to help residents reduce their water use, including adding new incentive programs for use of rain barrels and revisiting codes that would prevent the use of artificial turf. 

Follow Abby Sewell on Twitter at @sewella for more county news.


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