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Amid drought, Mayor Garcetti directs L.A. to cut water use 20% by 2017

 Amid drought, Mayor Garcetti directs L.A. to cut water use 20% by 2017
Under Mayor Eric Garcetti's plan to cut water usage, lawns at city buildings and street medians can no longer be watered more than two days a week, and the Department of Recreation and Parks must cut its water consumption over the most recent fiscal year. (Mark Boster, Los Angeles Times)

Mayor Eric Garcetti on Tuesday challenged Los Angeles residents, businesses and city agencies to cut water use by 20% over the next 21/2 years and warned of new water restrictions if conservation targets aren't met.

In announcing the plan, Garcetti said the city's already significant reductions in water use were inadequate given the seriousness of the drought.

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"The ongoing drought has created a water crisis second to none. We need bold action," the mayor said.

Garcetti said he hopes to achieve the 20% reduction through an executive directive that outlines voluntary guidelines for residents and mandatory cuts in water use at city facilities, including parks.

The plan sets out periodic benchmarks for the reductions. If Angelenos don't hit the goals, Garcetti said, he would impose harsher rules for residents that could include scaling back outdoor watering from three days per week to two, requiring covers for all pools to reduce evaporation and prohibiting residents from washing their cars at home.

State water officials said Garcetti's plan was notable because Los Angeles has already reduced water consumption by at least 17% over the last seven years.

"Twenty percent past where they are now is suitably ambitious," said state water board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus. She called Garcetti's plan "the most aggressive of any major city."

Water conservation advocates commended the plan, though some questioned whether the 20% goal was realistic.

"This is moving the city much closer to living within our means," said Mark Gold of UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. "But at the same time, this is going to be really, really hard. There's going to have to be a very aggressive campaign citywide."

Among the goals in Garcetti's plan is a dramatic reduction in reliance on water imported from outside the region, which is significantly more expensive than local groundwater and drives up city water bills.

More than 80% of the city's water is imported. Garcetti said he wants to see that amount halved by 2024.

The mayor's move comes as statewide conservation efforts appear to be producing results.

Last month, the state Water Resources Control Board reported that Southern California cut its urban water use by 7.8% from the same month in 2013. Earlier this year, the Southland faced criticism after a state report showed its water use rising.

Despite the improvement, the state as a whole, as well as Los Angeles, remains short of Gov. Jerry Brown's goal of reducing water use by 20%. Conservation is improving as the year continues, but officials said it's unclear whether the goal will be met by the end of the year.

Experts praised Garcetti for setting specific deadlines for water reductions, something that Brown did not do. Garcetti called for water consumption to be measured on July 1, 2015, on Jan. 1, 2016, and Jan. 1, 2017. At those points, the directive targets water usage reductions of 10%, 15% and 20%, respectively.

To help reach those benchmarks, the directive spells out specific instructions. For example, effective immediately, lawns at city buildings and street medians can no longer be watered more than two days a week, and the Department of Recreation and Parks must cut its water consumption by 10% compared with the most recent fiscal year.

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The order also increases rebates to residents who remove turf — to as much as $3.75 per square foot, up from $3 and creates a Mayoral Water Cabinet that will oversee the city's progress toward the water conservation goals.

Los Angeles is now in Phase 2 of its mandatory water conservation ordinance, which limits watering to no more than three times a week.

The Department of Water and Power has increased the number of inspectors looking for water wasters from one to four. But the department has pledged to take a gentle approach, choosing to educate and warn violators rather than issue a fine.

Garcetti's directive dovetailed with several drought-related discussions Tuesday at the Metropolitan Water District and inside City Hall.

The MWD's board of directors approved a 36% increase in money paid to water agencies to develop and produce recycled water, recover groundwater and desalinate seawater.

City Council members considered a motion presented in committee by Councilmen Mike Bonin and Felipe Fuentes that would call for an end to watering large lawns that are located on city property and go further than the mayor's order. Other motions would make it easier for customers to install artificial turf in parkways and get rebates for allowing their lawns to die.

"We use as much water in this city today as we did 40 years ago even though there's 1 million more people living here," Garcetti said. "That said, we've got to do more, and that's what today is about."

Twitter: @MattStevensLAT

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