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Long Beach, Santa Fe Springs Considering Penalties for Failure to Meet Water Goals

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Residents of Long Beach and Santa Fe Springs may soon have to pay penalties on their water bills if they do not reduce water consumption by 10%.

The years-long drought is beginning to squeeze some area cities, which are seriously considering ordinances to force their residents and businesses to conserve.

Others cities, such as Pico Rivera and Downey, are better off and do not anticipate limiting water use.

The difference is that Long Beach and Santa Fe Springs rely heavily on imported water from the giant Metropolitan Water District. Pico Rivera and Downey draw most of their water from vast underground aquifers.

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Because of the drought, the MWD on Feb. 1 will make cuts ranging from 10% to 30% in the amount of water it sells. The MWD sells water from the State Water Project and the Colorado River.

Long Beach obtains 62% of its water from the MWD, while it pumps 33% from wells. The remaining 5% is reclaimed water that it buys from the county to irrigate public landscaping. The general manager of the Long Beach Water Department, Dan Davis, said his City Council will probably enact mandatory water conservation next month.

Customers who do not show a 10% reduction in water use from last year would pay a surcharge, and people who waste water by hosing down driveways, among other things, would also be penalized, Davis said.

Last summer, the city had some success when it called on residents and businesses to voluntarily reduce water consumption by 10%. But Davis said it will take mandatory conservation to increase that level of conservation from about 6% to at least the 10% required by the MWD.

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“It’s going to impose a hardship,” said Davis, who would like to see other cities adopt mandatory conservation programs.

Long Beach City Councilman Les Robbins stopped short of calling for all area cities to move to mandatory conservation, but he said such measures could soon become necessary.

“This is year five of a drought,” Robbins said. “This is going to be a very dry year, and what if we have another one next year?”

The Santa Fe Springs City Council has scheduled a hearing Thursday on an ordinance to impose a mandatory 10% cutback in water consumption for most users.

Public Works Director John Price said the ordinance would impose a 10% surcharge on a customer’s water bill for excessive use. It also would impose penalties for watering down driveways and other wasteful practices.

The Sante Fe Springs municipal water department serves almost all of the city’s residents and businesses. It bought 53% of its water from the MWD last year. Several independent water companies serve the remaining residents and businesses in the largely industrial city of 16,000 residents.

The cutbacks could have the most impact on the city’s industries, some of which need large amounts of water to maintain production, Price said.

Water users could petition for an exemption if they can prove the cutbacks would cause a hardship.

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“We get a substantial amount of MWD water,” Price said. “MWD is taking action Feb. 1 and we want to be on board.”

All of the city officials contacted by The Times said they are taking the drought seriously and have urged residents and businesses to conserve water.

But government officials in Pico Rivera and Downey, which enjoy extensive legal rights to pump ground water, have been able to adopt a more relaxed attitude about conservation. Pico Rivera obtains all of its water from wells, while Downey pumps about 80% from wells.

In times of drought, municipal water departments and independent water companies are allowed to pump 10% more than their usual ground-water allocation, regional water officials said. So cities that obtain most of their water from wells could actually increase their consumption, while others that rely on MWD water would have to cut back.

Pico Rivera has no plans to impose mandatory conservation, said City Manager Dennis Courtemarche. About two years ago, the city implemented a voluntary conservation program. Water consumption dropped by as much as 10% some months but climbed again as consumers became lax, a city water official said.

“There was a conscious effort made by this council to be as independent as they could be so we wouldn’t be dependent on other agencies to provide us with water,” Courtemarche said. “To do mandatory kinds of cutbacks seems premature.”

Downey also has a voluntary conservation program but no immediate plans to impose mandatory conservation. Downey’s program resulted in about a 5% savings last summer, said Greg Mayfield, Downey’s water superintendent.

“The cities need to conserve based on what their supplies are,” said William Ralph, Downey public works director. “If my supply is a better supply than a neighboring city, then I see no need to cut back like he does.”

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Indeed, the area’s aquifers are full, said John Norman, general manger of the Central and West Basin Water Replenishment District. Aquifers in the Central and West basins provide ground water to the Southeast and Long Beach areas.

Water officials have been slowly building up underground water supplies in case of drought. But the supply could be drawn dangerously low within four years if the drought and the current, or increased rate, of pumping continues, Norman said.

“We could handle this a few years,” Norman said. “But it wouldn’t be a prudent thing to do.”

Long Beach buys its water directly from the MWD. The water departments and independent water companies in 24 other Southeast-area cities buy MWD water through a wholesaler called the Central Basin Municipal Water District.

The cities served by the Central Basin District are Artesia, Bell, Bell Gardens, Bellflower, Cerritos, Commerce, Cudahy, Downey, Hawaiian Gardens, Huntington Park, La Habra Heights, Lakewood, La Mirada, Lynwood, Maywood, Montebello, Norwalk, Paramount, Pico Rivera, Santa Fe Springs, Signal Hill, South Gate, Vernon and Whittier. Compton buys water directly from the MWD.

The district’s board of directors on Wednesday will hold a hearing on an ordinance that would force its customers to reduce their use of imported water to meet MWD cutbacks or pay nearly three times as much for additional water.

Early this month, district lawyer Wayne K. Lemieux told the directors they could impose mandatory water conservation in all Southeast-area cities, whether they use imported water or not.

But the district’s general manager, Richard Atwater, said such sweeping action would not be taken immediately because city officials have argued that they should be allowed to establish their own conservation programs.

“I think all the cities should act in a responsible manner,” said Downey Councilwoman Diane P. Boggs. “But I don’t like to see us giving up our local control.”

But if cities don’t conserve, the district could later approve an ordinance that would impose areawide, mandatory conservation.

“We’re going to give them a model ordinance and suggest that each city adopt their own,” Atwater said. “If they don’t, then our board is going to consider doing it.”


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