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State to Shut Off Water Delivery to Southland

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Gov. Pete Wilson on Monday announced new and unprecedented cutbacks of state water deliveries so drastic that Southern California will be cut off from this traditional source of water by mid-March.

Wilson said heightened drought conditions had forced the state to notify all cities and industrial users served by the State Water Project that they can expect to receive only 10% of normal deliveries for the rest of the year.

Because the Metropolitan Water District has already drawn that amount of water in January and February, officials said the announcement means that in March the state will effectively stop pumping water to Southern California.

“It’s by far the most severe water restriction ever imposed,” said George Baumli, executive director of the State Water Contractors Assn.

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In Los Angeles, officials said the announcement means that water users may face cutbacks of up to 25% beginning May 1.

Wilson’s announcement confirmed predictions made Friday by MWD officials after a private meeting with state water analysts, who reported that drought conditions had worsened far beyond what anyone had anticipated.

By Monday’s announcement, MWD General Manager Carl Boronkay had already moved to schedule an emergency meeting of the water wholesaler’s board of directors to consider further rationing of deliveries to the 27 government customers served by the MWD.

Boronkay said he will recommend at the March 4 meeting that the board reduce deliveries overall by 49%, the biggest cutback ever imposed by the district. He said elimination of State Water Project deliveries will require the district to rely almost exclusively on water from the Colorado River, its other primary source.

The district is expecting to receive 1.2 million acre-feet from the Colorado River this year. It had requested 1.7 million acre-feet from the State Water Project, but with the latest announcement will get no more than the 170,000 acre-feet that was delivered in January and February. An acre-foot is enough to supply an average family of five for about a year.

“It (the cutback) has to be done,” he said. “The data they (state water officials) presented makes it unavoidable,” he said.

Wilson said the data showed that a “lovely” warm winter, which has been a boon to the tourist industry, has been a disaster for the state’s critical water conditions. He said the warm weather is causing a “high rate of evaporation” at a time when rain and snowfall are at record lows.

“So we are looking at very, very difficult times,” he said.

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The general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power reacted to the difficult times by announcing that he expects customers may have to pare water use by 25%. The department, which buys 65% of its water from the MWD, had planned to ration its customers by 15% beginning May 1.

“Things are looking more dismal than we’d anticipated,” said General Manager Daniel Waters. “It’s becoming evident very, very quickly that we’re going to have to go beyond the 15%. . . . I think it is almost assured.”

Waters said the MWD cutbacks coincided with a continuing lack of precipitation in the Eastern Sierra, another major source of water for Los Angeles. He said he expects to recommend the 25% cutback in two weeks to DWP commissioners. If they grant approval, the matter will go to the Los Angeles City Council.

The council last week gave DWP the go-ahead to impose a mandatory 10% cutback effective Friday, to be followed by the 15% cutback May 1.

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DWP customers are to receive notices in early March telling them the number of gallons they must conserve to avoid financial penalties, the enforcement mechanisms for the rationing.

First offenders will have to pay a $3 fine for every 748 extra gallons used, plus 15% of their total water bills. Second offenders will face the same $3-fine, plus 25% of their bills. Three-time violators will face a $4 fine and a 75% surcharge. Service could be cut off to those who are cited a fourth time.

The state’s decision is expected to tighten the tap even further on Southern California’s agriculture industry. In Riverside County, where citrus growers have been instructed to cut their water use by 50%, Western Municipal Water District officials said the latest reductions could mean “a total cutoff to agricultural customers.”

The state has already cut off water deliveries to its agricultural customers. The small number of farmers lucky enough to be served by the MWD--which primarily serves municipal customers--are still receiving some water.

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Renae Hinchey, a Western Municipal spokeswoman, said the district has operated a voluntary rationing program for its residential customers for the last nine months but may have to go to mandatory rationing. She said the issue will be taken up at a public hearing March 6.

In Ventura County, officials of the Calleguas Municipal Water District, which supplies five of the major cities, predicted that it may be a month before the district feels the effect of the latest MWD cutbacks. District General Manager Jim Hubert said a sudden surge in water consumption in Simi Valley, Thousand Oaks, Moorpark, Oxnard and Camarillo is adding to his agency’s water woes.

“It’s gone up because we’ve gotten summerlike weather,” he said.

Thousand Oaks Mayor Frank Schillo said the latest reductions in deliveries may mean his city will go to a higher stage of water conservation sooner than expected. The city is planning to consider a proposal today to penalize customers who fail to reduce consumption.

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San Diego water managers recommended a series of measures Monday that call for a 50% reduction by April 1, the development of pricing penalties for those who use too much water, and a request to the county and all cities to have developers suspend landscaping in new subdivisions.

At the same time, San Diego Mayor Maureen O’Connor, who remains steadfast against mandatory cutbacks, wants the city to spend $30 million for the purchase of water from Northern California farmers and the state of Colorado, a ban on new water hookups and a voluntary 30% residential reduction in water use.

In Sacramento, state water officials offered one small note of comfort in a letter to the MWD. They said it is possible--but not probable--that if March is abnormally rainy, additional water could be released. A more likely scenario, they said, is that March will have abnormally low rainfall and 1991 will become the driest year on record, exceeding 1977 levels.

Water Resources Department Director David Kennedy said his agency is projecting that the Sacramento River Index--the measurement of runoff from the Sacramento, Feather, American and Yuba river basins--this year will be 4.2 million acre-feet, compared with 15.7 million acre-feet in a normal year. Even in 1977, the index was 5.1 million acre-feet.

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The Sacramento River collects water from the other three basins as it moves downward into the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. From there the State Water Project pumps it south through the California Aqueduct into Southern California reservoirs.

Although the state cutbacks are requiring unprecedented reductions in deliveries from the MWD, Baumli of the state contractors association said the Santa Clara Valley Water District will be hit even harder. He said that district, which serves San Jose, has only limited ground water supplies that it can use to replace losses in state deliveries.

He said his association is still urging the governor to declare a state of emergency that permits temporary suspension of state rules, regulations and laws. By suspending environmental regulations, he said, the state could construct barriers in the delta that would prevent the intrusion of saltwater and permit more fresh water to be shipped south.

In his press conference Monday, Wilson again declined to declare an emergency, although he said he “may well” be closer to such action than he has been in the past.

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He said that if a water banking system--which permits water-rich farmers in Northern California to sell to water-poor urban districts--does not work on a voluntary basis, “perhaps we have to go to the next step of invoking the powers under the emergency acts.”

A select group of farmers served by the federal government’s Central Valley Project are still receiving 75% of their normal water deliveries because of ancient water rights they possess.

Ellis reported from Sacramento and Rohrlich from Los Angeles. Contributing to this story were staff writers Marla Cone in Orange County, Shawn Hubler in Riverside, Psyche Pascual in Ventura County and Mark Platte in San Diego.


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