L.A. may require pool covers to fight drought

L.A. water board OKs tougher water restrictions if drought gets worse

Los Angeles water officials approved new watering restrictions Thursday that could be imposed if the city’s conservation efforts flag in the coming summer months.

Residents could be required to cover their swimming pools or limit their watering to two days a week rather than three under revised drought restrictions unanimously approved by the five-member Board of Water and Power Commissioners.

If approved by the City Council, the changes would also ban outdoor watering for 48 hours after it rains, slap time limits on sprinkler watering depending on the type of nozzle used, and prohibit residents from using potable water to fill fountains or ponds.

Officials stressed that Angelenos have responded to calls for conservation and that the city remains on track to meet water-use reduction targets set by both Mayor Eric Garcetti and Gov. Jerry Brown. The restrictions aim to give the city more flexibility to phase in tougher water-saving measures, but residents are unlikely to see major changes anytime soon.

“I don’t know if you’re going to see movement … for a little while yet,” said Councilman Felipe Fuentes, who heads the city's Energy and Environment Committee. “We want to conserve, but we don’t want to sacrifice quality of life.”

The revised measure would invoke gradually harsher water-saving restrictions over six phases instead of the current five. L.A. has been in Phase II since 2009. Should the city move into Phase III under the new rules, residents would be encouraged to cover their pools to cut down on evaporation. They would not be required to do so until the city reaches Phase IV.

If conditions suddenly deteriorated, officials would be forced to drop the watering limit from three days a week to one under the current ordinance. The proposed revision would allow an intermediate option.

“One day a week would be a real game-changer,” said Marty Adams, the DWP's water systems director. “It’d be real difficult for anyone to have any type of outdoor landscape or lawn, and we also don’t believe that we need that level of conservation to meet all the targets, at least this current summer.”

The revisions would also add a safeguard for golf courses and professional sports fields. During a severe phase when all other landscape watering would be banned, those users would be allowed to water at night and only in sensitive areas such as tees and greens.

“We’re not trying to shut down parts of the economy in the future. We’re providing provisions so that we can police [water use] … without selecting different kinds of businesses, one over another,” Adams said. “That’d be a very far measure from where we are today.”

The DWP board or the mayor can recommend moving to a stricter phase, said DWP spokeswoman Michelle Figueroa, but the City Council must ultimately approve the change.

In October, Garcetti called for a 20% citywide reduction in potable water use by 2017. This month, Gov. Jerry Brown separately ordered the state to cut its urban water use by 25% over the next year.

Officials said L.A. residents seem to be on track to meet both targets. The city would move into a more severe phase of its drought plan only if it appears conservation efforts are lagging, they said.

There has been much debate about whether pools are a major water waster. Some cities have considered restrictions but determined pools were not the big water drain they originally believed.

Twitter: @taygoldenstein, @bymattstevens

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times


9:07 a.m.: Updated with background about pool regulations.

This post was originally published at 6:43 p.m. April 23.