Wilson Directs Plans Begin for 50% Water Cuts
Predicting that prolonged drought will have a dramatic impact on the California lifestyle, Gov. Pete Wilson directed local communities Friday to plan for a 50% cut in water supplies and proposed the creation of a $100-million fund to grapple with the crisis.
The governor, announcing his first concrete proposals for coping with the fifth year of drought, shied away from an outright declaration of emergency, suggesting instead a five-point program recommended by top water officials.
It included plans to establish a water bank to ease buying and selling of the precious resource among the water haves and have-nots and recommendations for saving fish and wildlife.
Wilson said he would ask that his proposal for a water fund be put on a “fast track” in the Legislature so state officials could begin making emergency loans to public and private agencies and provide technical help in finding new supply sources. He did not specify where the money would come from, but usually those types of funds come out of the state’s emergency reserves.
“I will not kid you; a drought of this magnitude is going to change the way we live,” said the grim-faced governor. “It will cause inconvenience. It will cause some very real pain. There is no getting around it; this is a time for sacrifice.”
San Diego County water officials said they have already taken steps to follow Wilson’s program.
The San Diego County Water Authority voted Thursday to ask its 24 member agencies to follow a sweeping set of conservation measures that include a cap on growth and a halt to residential sprinkler use. The authority wants a 30% across-the-board cutback on agricultural and residential use beginning March 1.
The authority’s strict guidelines accomplish “exactly what the governor is asking local jurisdictions to do,” said Lester A. Snow, the authority’s general manager, on Friday. “We have developed a plan that is flexible enough for the agencies to react to a number of different possible scenarios in the water-supply situation.”
If necessary, the authority is prepared to move into an even more austere cutback, which would include a 50% cut in water use, officials said. Under that plan, farm irrigation equipment would be disconnected, restaurants would serve food on paper plates and residents would have to water their trees and foliage with reused bath water.
In Sacramento, Wilson directed the state Department of Water Resources to monitor the actions of communities and report to him in two weeks on their progress. He said he will use the power and prestige of the governor’s office to pressure any community that drags its feet. If this failed, the governor said, he would be prepared to invoke his emergency powers. Those powers enable a governor to suspend rules, regulations and even state laws in crisis situations.
Although drought conditions are not harsh enough to require 50% cutbacks in water use in most areas, Wilson said, he wanted the entire state to be prepared for that eventuality. The reduction he envisioned would be from supplies available in a normal year such as 1986, meaning that communities already cutting 10% would only have to cut another 40%. “I am suggesting that is at present a worst-case scenario,” he said, “but I would think that it is a likely one.”
The governor said he expected all communities to quickly impose some water rationing and other conservation measures. A survey conducted by the Assn. of California Water Agencies showed that as of Feb. 4, a vast majority of the water districts were coping with shortages through voluntary programs. Only 29% had imposed rationing.
Some local water district officials reacted to Wilson’s notice by saying that they hope the state would strive to find other sources of water before taking the drastic step of requiring severe cutbacks.
“If Southern California’s going to look as brown and ugly as Santa Barbara, we can do it, but the costs will be great,” said Ronald Young, general manager of the Irvine Ranch Water District. “It’s really drastic. At 50% cutbacks, you’re basically only using water inside the house. . . . It’s the bare minimum for health and safety.”
Throughout Southern California, the giant Metropolitan Water District, a wholesaler that provides much of the water for the region, has imposed a 31% overall cutback in deliveries that will take effect March 1. To comply with those measures, the Los Angeles City Council is scheduled to vote Tuesday on a mandatory rationing plan that would require customers to reduce consumption by 10% of 1986 levels by March 1. A 15% cut would go into effect May 1.
Marin County is one of the few areas already experiencing shortages such as those that Wilson predicts will spread statewide. On March 1, officials will limit residents to 50 gallons of water per person per day to achieve an overall 50% reduction in use.
Dan Smith, legislative advocate for the state water association, said most agencies welcome the governor’s proposals, particularly his plan for the water bank.
Wilson said the water bank will lead an organized effort to purchase water, pool it and store some of it in reserve. He said the Water Resources Department would monitor sales to ensure that there would not be “profiteering and price-gouging.”
Carl Boronkay, MWD’s general manager, predicted that the governor’s actions would “grease the rails” for faster transfers of water. Although MWD’s board has authorized $30 million for water purchases, he said it has been difficult to reach agreements with sellers, many of whom are holding out for higher prices.
Wilson said the water bank would make most of its purchases from farmers who have old riparian rights contracts with the federal government. These contracts entitle farmers to divert water from rivers and protect them from severe federal cutbacks on deliveries.
As part of his five-point plan, Wilson also said state water officials are being ordered to constantly review water supplies so the government can act swiftly to help farmers in the event the crisis eases.
Times staff writers Elizabeth Howton contributed to this story from Orange County, Psyche Pascual from Ventura County and Mark Platte and Bernice Hirabayashi from San Diego.
WILSON’S DROUGHT PLAN
Gov. Pete Wilson’s five-step plan to help ease the effects of the drought includes:
A call for communities to adopt rationing plans to cope with a “worst case” 50% reduction in water deliveries.
Establishment of a water bank so the state can store water to sell to needy buyers.
More money for wells for wetland areas to protect threatened habitats.
A special $100-million fund to pay for conservation advancements, firefighting capabilities, water reclamation and other programs.
A call for state officials to closely monitor water supplies to determine if some flow to agriculture can be restored.