After two years of strict water rationing, the Ventura City Council on Monday night agreed to relax its conservation ordinance, allowing some households to use nearly 100 more gallons a day without paying penalties.
The council voted 6 to 1 to give preliminary approval to the long-awaited measure, which also lifts the moratorium on non-residential water service connections, a move officials hope will spur business growth.
A final vote on the proposal is expected next week, which would allow residents and businesses to begin using more water on May 7.
In March, 1990, the City Council voted to adopt restrictions designed to cut consumption by 30%, a move that limited water use in Ventura more than anywhere else in the county.
But according to the ordinance approved Monday night, city residents would only have to save 10% from Ventura's 1989 consumption level of 23,922 acre-feet.
"It's a step in the right direction," said Councilman Jack Tingstrom, who served on a committee of council members and city staff who proposed the change. "People should have more water. But (the measure) still says, 'Don't go too crazy, don't go too far.' "
An average single-family residence now is allowed a base allotment of 294 gallons a day, while apartments and condominiums are allotted 196 gallons a day.
But under the new ordinance, the allocations will be increased to 392 gallons a day for single-family residences, and 245 gallons a day for apartments and condominiums.
Officials said they are able to ease restrictions because recent storms have allowed the city to draw water from the Ventura River and place it in holding tanks. According to a staff report, this season's plentiful rain in the Ventura River watershed will help sustain the city for two to three years.
Despite the strong support for the measure, Councilman James L. Monahan said he could not vote for it because it does not eliminate restrictions altogether.
"It's a little more water, but it doesn't go far enough," said Monahan, who was the only council member in 1990 to oppose the 30% cutback. "I think water conservation should be voluntary."
In addition, Monahan complained that the ordinance does not eliminate the tier structure of water fees that increases rates as consumption goes up.
For example, residents who use 294 gallons a day or less are charged $1.26 per 748 gallons. But residents who use 295 to 392 gallons a day are charged $1.98 per 748 gallons.
"We should go back to a flat rate," Monahan said. "Let's give penalties to people who are blatant violators. I just can't support the ordinance the way it is."
Councilman Gary Tuttle said he was satisfied with the measure. But he said Ventura still must secure a long-term water supply. Council members are looking into the possibility of building a pipeline to the state water project at Castaic Lake or constructing a desalting plant.
"I'm worried for the future," Tuttle said. "I hope we don't become a council that doesn't plan ahead."