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Council Delays Water-Limit Vote

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The San Diego City Council delayed action Monday on the County Water Authority’s request that the city join the growing number of Southern California municipalities that have responded to the drought by limiting when residents can water lawns, wash cars and fill swimming pools.

A majority of the Water Authority’s 24-member agencies in San Diego County already have adopted water-use restrictions designed to reduce water consumption by 10%. The Water Authority and the Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Water District, which imports most of the water used in Southern California, have asked their member agencies to adopt the mandatory restrictions called for in a Stage 2 water alert.

But the City Council, which seemed to be split on the need for mandatory water restrictions, on Monday postponed a vote on a Stage 2 alert until next Monday’s regular council meeting.

Lester Snow, the Water Authority’s general manager, said Monday that smaller municipalities in San Diego County would have “second thoughts” about the need for conservation should San Diego, which uses 40% of the water in the county, fail to adopt mandatory restrictions.

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Snow said that the Water Authority’s decision to push for mandatory restrictions was “very rare and unusual,” but that mandatory controls are needed if the county is to be assured of adequate water next year.

However, Mayor Maureen O’Connor maintained that, with proper education, San Diegans will voluntarily cut their water use by 10%, eliminating the need for mandatory controls.

“We have a history of answering the call,” said O’Connor, who referred to hefty water use cuts San Diegans achieved through voluntary efforts in 1957 and 1977. “We’re going to do it, we’re going to get 10% from the people of San Diego,” O’Connor said. “I’m going to put my reputation on the line.”

O’Connor described mandatory water conservation rules as placing a “water pistol” to the heads of San Diegans. “You get more out of everybody by asking them instead of telling them,” O’Connor said.

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According to O’Connor’s proposal, the city would ask San Diegans to voluntarily follow the Stage 2 alert restrictions limiting when residents can water lawns, wash cars and fill swimming pools. O’Connor suggested that the city consider mandatory controls only if, after 90 days, it is clear that voluntary conservation has failed.

But Councilman Ron Roberts, who last week proposed the prompt adoption of a Stage 2 alert, complained that “in 90 days, the summer will be over” and the city will have missed a significant chance to cut water use. Monday’s vote, Roberts said, will determine “whether we step up our (conservation) efforts . . . or try to slide by with a minimal effort.”

A voluntary program “would be wonderful except for the fact that recent history shows that it hasn’t worked,” Roberts said.

Councilman Bob Filner suggested that San Diego’s image will take a beating if it turns out to be the only major city in California that does not respond to the drought by adopting the mandatory controls.

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