The giant Metropolitan Water District on Tuesday ordered mandatory water rationing for agencies serving 15 million Southern California residents from Ventura to the Mexican border.
The cutbacks, prompted largely by a four-year drought, will range from 5% for overall residential consumption to 20% for agricultural use. The rationing--the first imposed by the MWD since 1977--will begin Feb. 1.
“The time to act is now,” S. Dell Scott, one of Los Angeles’ eight representatives on the 51-member MWD board, said before the vote to adopt rationing. “Every drop of water we save now will be available for next year, or for a future year.”
Under the rationing plan, the MWD will reduce deliveries to 27 local agencies, including the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, that sell the water to the public. The local agencies will pay a 300% surcharge for water they use in excess of their quotas.
It will be up to local governing officials, such as the Los Angeles City Council and Mayor Tom Bradley, to decide whether to impose rationing and penalties for overuse by consumers.
“I don’t know whether they’ll do it,” MWD General Manager Carl Boronkay said. “But I suspect they will.”
Bradley, who began pushing for mandatory water rationing last spring, said the vote was “a prudent action.” He said the city will not decide until February whether to impose mandatory rationing on the public.
“The (city) Department of Water and Power believes, and I concur, that if Los Angeles voluntarily continues to conserve at the levels we have achieved since last April, the city will not face surcharges from the MWD in the near future,” Bradley said.
Between April and September, the DWP said, voluntary cutbacks reduced consumption about 11% below normal, although the reduction dipped to about 5.5% in October and about 7% in November.
“If the drought continues, (the MWD action) is another factor for the city to weigh when it decides whether to implement mandatory conservation. The city will not need to make that determination until February, when we will have a better idea of what the coming winter has in store for us.”
Normally, the city gets most of its water through the Los Angeles Aqueduct, which carries water from Owens Valley. This year, because of the drought and environmental rulings, the flow from Owens Valley is minimal, and the city must rely heavily on the water it buys from MWD.
While most MWD directors backed immediate imposition of the rationing plan, Michael A. Nolan, Burbank’s representative, disagreed, arguing that under the district bylaws, “No water should be cut off to cities while water is still being delivered to agriculture.
“We should pull the plug on agriculture before we pull the plug on people,” Nolan said.
Fred Vendig, the district’s general counsel, disagreed with Nolan’s interpretation of laws. The directors approved the staff-proposed rationing plan on a voice vote.
All 49 directors present voted for the plan except Nolan and Ina S. Roth, the representative from Beverly Hills.
The MWD--serving customers in Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties--gets most of its water from two sources. They are the State Water Project, which funnels runoff from the Sierra snowpack to Southern California through the California Aqueduct, and the Colorado River.
Last year, the district received about 1.2 million acre-feet of water from the aqueduct and about 1.3 million acre-feet from the river. An acre-foot is 326,000 gallons, the average use by two families in a year.
Largely because of the drought in the Southwest, neither supply will be as great as last year’s.
The state Bureau of Reclamation, which ships the Sierra snowmelt south, says it expects a 15% reduction in supplies next year. The federal Bureau of Reclamation, which regulates the distribution of water from the Colorado River, said it is expecting a 25% drop in the supply available to Southern California in 1991.
MWD officials said the approved cutbacks are the second phase of a five-phase plan designed to reduce consumption of water delivered by the district next year by 10%, or 260,000 acre-feet.
Phase I, implemented Dec. 1, was designed to achieve voluntary cutbacks of 10% for residential and industrial use and unspecified amounts for agricultural and ground-water-replenishment use.
If the drought continues and Phase II’s mandatory cuts of 5% for residential and 20% for agriculture prove inadequate, the district could impose Phase III, which would mandate cuts of 10% for residential and 30% for agriculture. With worsening conditions, the cuts would rise to 15% for residential and 40% for agriculture in Phase IV and 20% for residential and 50% for agriculture in Phase V.
Stanley Sprague, general manager of the Municipal Water District of Orange County--the county’s largest recipient of water from the MWD--said that voluntary conservation efforts have reduced county water use by 8% in the past year.
Local water agencies supplied by the MWD probably will urge a continuation of voluntary conservation because “very few water agencies in the county have mandatory (conservation) ordinances in place,” Sprague said.
“Even if they wanted to go to mandatory, they’d have to go through the whole ordinance procedure,” Sprague said. “That can take two to four months.”
Although Santa Ana has approved mandatory conservation measures if the situation worsens, the city is already “prepared to start the (MWD’s) program,” according to the city’s water resources manager, Lee Harry.
The San Diego County Water Authority, which has received 95% of its water from the MWD this year, will vote Thursday on a resolution to establish guidelines for the operation and administration of the MWD’s incremental conservation plan.
Under the resolution, the authority’s 23 member agencies would have to reduce water use by 7.8% from the 1989-90 fiscal year.
As set forward in the MWD plan, each agency will pay $394 per acre-foot for the water they use in excess of the limits. If they use less water than required, they will receive incentive rebates of $99 per acre-foot.
Officials in eastern Ventura County say it will be difficult for farmers there to achieve the 20% reduction mandated.
“The farmers right now are using as little water as possible,” said Reddy Pakala of the Ventura County water division, which oversees distribution of water to the Moorpark and Somis areas.
Don Reeder, president of the Ventura County Farm Bureau, which represents about 1,800 farmers, said growers in the eastern county are using the most efficient irrigation systems available.
“There’s very little left to cut,” Reeder said. “The biggest decision now is going to be what crops to eliminate.”