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Water wasters may soon see the specter of ‘drought busters’

Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced Monday that he would reactivate a program of “drought busters” to preach the message of water conservation.

Department of Water and Power employees will roam the nation’s second-largest city and issue friendly advice to residents they see wasting water.

Excessive lawn watering and sidewalk spraying are expected to be top targets.

Earlier this year, the mayor asked residents to voluntarily cut water use by 10%. By putting drought busters on the street, Villaraigosa hopes to avoid restrictions on water use.

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The mayor will unveil details of the program, which centers on having five to 10 people patrolling the city, at a news conference today at DWP headquarters. Los Angeles covers about 469 square miles.

The mayor’s press release about the drought busters said a similar program in the early 1990s contributed to water savings of 25% to 30%.

But even as the city’s top water official told the City Council last month that he was contemplating reviving the drought busters program, he warned that such measures might not be enough to get the city through the latest dry spell.

DWP acting general manager Robert Rozanski said that if this year is as dry as the last -- the driest on record -- mandatory conservation rules might be necessary.

Long Beach has implemented mandatory conservation rules that outlaw lawn watering between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., among other measures.

“The impetus behind what we’re doing is a strong, in-your-face campaign to help people change their lifestyle,” said Ryan Alsop, a Long Beach Water Department spokesman.

“If somebody is in violation, they get a warning. Repeated offenses, they could wind up being penalized, but we’re hoping not to get there.”

Alsop said Long Beach used less water in September than in any September in a decade.

Dry weather and paltry snowfalls last winter have greatly diminished reservoir levels throughout the West.

Much of Southern California has so far been buffered from the drought by the large amount of water storage capacity in the state, but even that has its limits.

“This is the first step to encourage our customers to conserve water,” said DWP Commissioner Nick Patsaouras.

“Hopefully, they will adhere to the message so we’re not forced to go into rationing should the drought continue.”

He said the DWP would have a better idea whether such restrictions would be necessary after seeing the volume of the coming winter’s snowfalls that feed city and regional aqueducts.

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steve.hymon@latimes.com


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