Ventura Acts to Ration Water, Halt Hookups

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Ventura City Council adopted an ordinance Monday that limits water use by residents, cuts back non-residential users by 15% to 20% and creates a moratorium on hookups for new construction.

The law, passed in the third year of a drought, is designed to reduce the city's water use by 30%.

The vote was 6 to 1, with Councilman Jim Monahan voting no.

"This is a preliminary ordinance, and we'll change it if someone comes up with a better way of doing it," Deputy Mayor Don Villeneuve said.

Three citizens had requested permission to speak, but the council voted to pass the ordinance without once again reopening the public hearing.

Monahan asked his fellow members if those seeking to speak could possibly say anything that would change their minds.

"I doubt it," Villeneuve said. "We've already listened to 74 speakers in previous hearings."

The statewide drought had already forced some cities to adopt water-saving measures. Ventura is the first city in the county to do so in at least five years.

In February, Santa Barbara became the first city in the state to make lawn watering illegal. San Jose, the state's third-largest city, adopted water rationing measures this summer. Monterey and San Luis Obispo counties have also adopted water-saving measures.

The ordinance will take effect April 13--30 days after adoption--but users will not be penalized for excess use until June.

Beginning then, with the second billing period after the ordinance becomes effective, users may be penalized up to 10 times the normal rate for excess use.

Single-family residences will be limited to 296 gallons a day. Apartments, condominiums, townhouses and mobile homes will be limited to 196 gallons. Houses get more because of lawn watering.

Public Works Director Shelley Jones said about 45% of the city's residents already use less water than the allowed amounts.

A family may get permission to use more water than the permitted amount if it can show it has exceeded the allocation for the past three years. Officials said that would typically be for a house with a big yard. Also, the amount will be increased by 49 gallons per day per person if more than three people live in a multifamily residence or more than four inhabit a single-family dwelling.

The ordinance provides for exceptions for medical needs, agriculture and businesses that prove that "all reasonable conservation measures are being used."

"We're looking at a couple of thousand requests" for exceptions, Jones said Monday. "We expect to handle them within two or three weeks after receiving them."

The city will mail brochures explaining the ordinance and giving water-saving tips to Ventura's 22,400 customers, he said.

In addition to rationing, the city is seeking additional supplies.

Jones said Ventura and the city of Santa Barbara have entered discussions with a number of agencies to import water originating with the State Water Project.

If negotiations are successful, Ventura and Santa Barbara would share about 3,000 additional acre-feet a year, about one-tenth of Ventura's needs. However, no water from this source would be available before the end of the year.

The city is also considering expanding the use of treated sewage for irrigation and buying water from the Alta Mutual Water Co., an agricultural supplier.

The council had given preliminary approval to the water-rationing ordinance last week after a series of hearings and a lengthy discussion.

"When there's not enough water to go around, you have to share it as broadly as possible," said Mayor Richard Francis.

"We hope we've done it, but we remain flexible and will change the ordinance if necessary," he added.

Councilman John McWherter, who also favored rationing, said he "had to vote for it. There's only so much water to go around, and we have to spread it around. I know the ordinance is going to cause people to be more aware of our natural resources and to be more conservative."

Monahan, who cast the only negative vote, said:

"I don't feel the ordinance is fair. I don't think the emergency really exists as defined by the ordinance. There's a water shortage, and we need to do something about it, but we need long-term solutions."

RATIONING: Who is affected and how. B2

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