Mandatory water restrictions in the works

CITY HALL — Outdoor watering will likely be limited to three days a week under a revised mandatory water conservation proposal that gained traction Tuesday with the City Council.

Mandatory 10% conservation, which still must be approved by the council next week, is recommended by the utility to help it stay within a reduced allotment from the Metropolitan Water District of California, which supplies up to 70% of Glendale’s water.

In response to the growing statewide water crisis, Metropolitan is reducing shipments by 10% on July 1 to all of its member agencies.

The utility will levy heavy penalties on agencies that exceed their allotment.

“We now need to start treating water like the valuable resource it is,” said Councilwoman Laura Friedman.

The City Council coalesced around the outdoor watering restrictions as an alternative to an unpopular proposal from Glendale Water & Power earlier this year that would have billed customers at least twice the regular rate for any water used that exceeded individually assigned benchmarks, which would be calculated at 10% less than their average consumption in 2006.

Council members also emphasized the need for massive public outreach to help the effort succeed.

“Sometimes what is fairest is what is most easily comprehensible, and that is what this is,” said Councilman John Drayman.

Last June, when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared an official statewide drought, Glendale Water & Power enacted a 10% voluntary conservation effort, but that yielded average cutbacks of only 4%, officials said.

“Unfortunately, we’re going to have to do something to require more stringent reduction in water usage,” said Glenn Steiger, general manager at Glendale Water & Power.

But residents who have already been conserving water questioned the fairness of the original proposal, arguing it would punish those who had already been conserving 10% or more.

“We heard that time and time again,” Steiger said.

While the limited watering days would be easier for both consumers and the utility, it would also be harder to enforce, officials said.

The household benchmark option could easily be policed through higher rates, but any outdoor watering violations would have to be handled by code enforcement officers, who would levy penalties between $100 and $1,000.

“I don’t know if this is going to work,” Councilman Dave Weaver said, questioning its effectiveness.

But faced with an unpopular alternative in the form of the original proposal, council members appeared willing to go with the option that other cities, including Burbank and Pasadena, have imposed.

“I think the fairest way to conserve water would be the most burdensome . . . therein lies the paradox,” Councilman Ara Najarian said.

Utility officials hosted three public meetings called for by the City Council in May to encourage and compile public input.

In addition to questioning the benchmark proposal, residents argued that the city should limit development as water constraints remain and should consider expanding the use of recycled water, Steiger said.

Utility officials also met with local Realtors who were concerned about a proposal to make the retrofit of plumbing fixtures to use less water a condition for the resale of a property.

As a result of that meeting and pending state legislation that could address the issue, the proposal was removed, said Peter Kavounas, assistant general manager for water services.

In order for mandatory conservation to be effective, council members emphasized that residents need to readjust their expectations of water availability, especially for landscape uses.

“We have to cut back on water because the water isn’t there,” Friedman said. “We have to pick our medicine and do it . . . Maybe we are at the point where expansive green lawns aren’t going to work anymore.”

Glendale Water & Power officials are expected to return in the coming weeks with a finalized ordinance for adoption.

The new regulations are planned to take effect Aug. 1.


 MELANIE HICKEN covers City Hall. She may be reached at (818) 637-3235 or by e-mail at melanie.hicken@latimes.com.

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