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THE CALIFORNIA DROUGHT : Water Officials Propose 50% Cut in Use, Penalties : Crisis: Rationing appears imminent. Mayor’s municipal state of emergency plan proposes spending $30 million to buy water from Northern California.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Recommending the strictest cutbacks yet on water use, San Diego County water managers proposed a set of measures Monday that calls for a 50% reduction in use by April, pricing penalties for those who use too much water and a request to suspend landscaping on all new development.

At the same time, San Diego Mayor Maureen O’Connor called for a municipal state of emergency because of the drought--now in its fifth year--which would include spending $30 million to buy water from Northern California farmers and the state of Colorado, a ban on new water hookups, and a voluntary 30% cutback in water use throughout the city.

Both actions took place in the midst of a water crisis that is eliciting calls for stronger conservation measures. Gov. Pete Wilson suggested Monday that he might soon have to declare a state of emergency because the state virtually has run out of water.

The recommendations Monday by San Diego’s water authority, the agency that provides water to 23 separate districts in the county, will be forwarded to the Metropolitan Water District, whose members first discussed the 50% reduction in water supplies last week.

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San Diego County imports about 90% of its water from MWD.

The Metropolitan Water District voted to cut deliveries by 31% beginning Friday. Next week, the MWD will decide whether to impose a 50% cutback by April 1.

“This is the worst drought in the recorded history of the state,” said Michael D. Madigan, chairman of the San Diego County Water Authority’s executive committee. “We’re going through our spring rainy season, and it’s not raining. So we keep ratcheting down and ratcheting down.”

Madigan said, “I think you will see rationing in San Diego County.”

He said the executive committee will meet again next week, after the Metropolitan Water District has decided what it wants to do. At that time, the committee will consider asking all of its districts to implement an even tougher cutback in water use.

Among the possible recommendations: no outdoor watering between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.; a prohibition on all turf irrigation except for parks and school grounds; a halt to using most sprinkler systems; no refilling of residential pools and spas; keeping water from being used for ornamental fountains; and a stop to hosing pavement or hard surfaces except for “compelling public health and safety reasons.”

In addition, the County Water Authority may consider a pricing structure similar to one used in Santa Barbara, in which rates would be tiered for residential users. In Santa Barbara, the top tier is 27 times the lowest level.

“Some people laughed at Santa Barbara, but they achieved a 45% reduction last year,” said Charles Rhodes, an assistant general manager for the county water district. “It’s hard to argue with that type of reduction.”

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Mayor O’Connor’s announcement came less than a week after she met with some of the city’s largest water users, such as the Navy and the city’s universities, and urged them to reduce their water consumption.

O’Connor’s spokesman, Paul Downey, said the mayor still favors voluntary water conservation of 30% but realizes that, by next week, regional and county water managers may be asking for a 50% cutback, which could include elements of mandatory reductions.

“Some members of the City Council favor a tiered rate structure, and the mayor may want to go with that,” Downey said. “If that happens, then maybe that turns into a mandatory cutback. For right now, we’re operating on a voluntary program.”

In a statement, O’Connor praised efforts at conservation last summer as “an oasis of cooperation, conservation and consideration that other cities can follow.”

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Downey said O’Connor’s move to spend $30 million on water will come from water bill revenues. The Metropolitan Water District already plans to spend $30 million to purchase water, and the San Diego County Water Authority has talked of using its own $10 million for purchases from a state pool of water that Northern California rice farmers may be willing to sell.

O’Connor said she plans to ask the City Council today to consider that an emergency ordinance be enacted within 90 days to ban any new water hookups.

City Councilman Ron Roberts proposed Friday that residential building permits be reduced by 30%, builders of new developments be required to come up with ways to save water and a multitiered system be developed to make those who use more than 300 gallons a day pay more.


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