L.A. City Council backs allowing homeowners to water lawns three days a week


The Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday backed a liberalized water-conservation plan that would allow people to irrigate lawns and gardens with sprinklers three days a week, instead of the two days now permitted.

Proponents said the switch would reduce stress on the city’s aging pipes and allow residents to keep their lawns and gardens green, while still meeting water-conservation goals.

Under current rules, residents may switch sprinklers on for only 15 minutes a day on Mondays and Thursdays, always before 9 a.m. or after 4 p.m. to limit evaporation. The new proposal would allow 8-minute irrigation cycles three times a week, also before 9 a.m. and after 4 p.m.

The result, lawmakers said, would reduce watering on a given property from 30 minutes to 24 minutes each week. But the extra day adds flexibility, backers said, as summer’s warmest and driest stretch approaches.

“The twice-a-week restrictions are turning people’s lawns brown,” said Councilman Greig Smith, who championed the plan.

The move is the latest water-management strategy from a city that has long imported most of its water from Northern California and elsewhere. Last year, the city imposed the sprinkler restrictions and a revamped water-pricing structure designed to reduce usage as the state suffered from a prolonged drought.

Regulators have zeroed in on outdoor water use for savings. Up to 40% of all water consumed by single-family customers is for outdoor purposes, according to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

The council on Tuesday sent the proposal for a three-day-a-week watering schedule to the DWP board for consideration.

The council rejected a DWP proposal that would have extended the two-day-a-week limit, but would have assigned specific watering days for even-numbered and odd-numbered addresses. The three-day-a-week plan would also assign watering days, including Saturday, to even and odd-numbered properties.

The recommendation comes after a panel of experts concluded that the two-day-a week mandate led to dramatic fluctuations in water pressure, contributing to a series of burst pipes that damaged homes and businesses.

However, James McDaniel, the DWP’s senior assistant general manager, indicated that such ruptures had declined in frequency, a fact that the agency attributes to an effort to replace aging and vulnerable lines. Last month, city water mains experienced 76 leaks and breaks, 15 of which were major — a 30% drop from June 2009, when obligatory conservation went into effect, said McDaniel, who called the conservation plan a major success.

McDaniel told the council that in a little more than a year, the program has saved 35 billion gallons of water — equaling the combined annual usage of the cities of Long Beach, Burbank, Santa Monica and Beverly Hills.

Los Angeles is now consuming less water than it was using 25 years ago, McDaniel said, even though the utility has added 1 million more customers. He said most people were trying to abide by the new water-use restrictions.

However, since June 2009, the DWP has issued more than 7,000 warnings to first-time offenders of mandatory conservation. The department has also issued more than 200 citations, with fines ranging from $100 to $300.