Soundly rejecting Mayor Tom Bradley's mandatory water rationing plan, the Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday gave final approval to a voluntary plan that includes the city's first fines for flagrant water wasters.
In a 12-1 vote, the council sent Bradley a conservation plan that calls for mandatory rationing only if the city's residents and businesses fail to cut overall water usage by 10% in any month.
Bradley signed the new ordinance Tuesday afternoon and it will take effect in several days. Bradley had wanted a mandatory rationing plan in place during the hot summer months when most of the city's water is consumed, but under the new ordinance no mandatory rationing can begin at least until September, and would require another vote of the City Council.
The ordinance approved Tuesday bans lawn and garden watering between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. and sets escalating fines of $50 to $150 for repeated violations. There is a loophole: The ban does not apply to professional gardeners.
Fines also may be imposed for hosing of sidewalks, driveways and parking lots; failure to repair leaks; allowing water to flow into gutters, and serving water to restaurant customers who do not request it.
In the most egregious cases, the Department of Water and Power may restrict the flow of water to a home or business or cut off the supply altogether.
Most of the wasteful practices have been banned since April, 1988, when drought conditions prompted city officials to impose the first phase of a so-called Emergency Water Conservation Plan. However, that plan, which will be superseded by the new measure, did not authorize fines for violations.
About 22 "drought busters" working for the Department of Water and Power will enforce the toughened rules and issue citations to violators, said Ed Freudenberg, a DWP spokesman.
DWP investigators have issued 3,000 warning letters for violations since last May 15, when the department kicked off a conservation push, he said. In that time, no one has been warned twice, he said.
Despite high temperatures and drought conditions, council members were skeptical of Bradley's call for rationing. DWP officials suggested mandatory conservation was not necessary. During April, May and June, the voluntary conservation effort has resulted in average water savings of 13.5%.
Many council members also objected to the cost of implementing the program, saying it would add several dollars to every customer's monthly bill.
"The citizens of Los Angeles have responded despite unusually hot weather," said Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores, who sponsored the voluntary measure. "I believe this is the right way to handle this rather than setting up a whole bureaucracy."
When the voluntary conservation measure was approved tentatively two weeks ago, Bradley aides had promised to make a final run at turning the council toward a tougher, mandatory conservation plan. There was scant evidence that such an effort was made.
In the coming months, overall city water use must remain at least 10% below a "normalized" level set by DWP analysts, or mandatory rationing may be imposed. The normalized level is set by a complex calculation that evaluates historic water use patterns as well as current weather, temperature and population data.
If the mandatory portion is put into effect, all customers of the DWP--both residential and business--will be required to cut their water use by 10% from 1986 levels.
For the first violation, customers would be charged $3 a billing unit of excess use plus 15% of their total water bill. A billing unit is 748 gallons.
A second violation would cost the customer $3 for each excess billing unit plus 25% of the bill. A third violation would boost the surcharge to $4 an excess billing unit and 75% of the bill.
Those who have moved since 1986 or did not live in the city then would be assigned an allotment based on the size of their home, the number of people in the household and the amount of landscaping.
The DWP will assign allotment levels and inform all customers.
WATER USE VIOLATIONS Following are uses of water that are prohibited and punishable by fines of up to $150 under a new voluntary water conservation plan adopted by the Los Angeles City Council. Hosing of sidewalks, driveways and parking lots.
Cleaning or filling of decorative fountains, ponds or lakes unless the water is part of a recycling system.
Serving water to restaurant customers who do not request it.
Failing to repair leaks quickly.
Watering lawns, gardens and other turf areas between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.
Allowing runoff into a sidewalk, driveway, street, ditch or gutter.