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L.A. mayor moves to limit water use and punish violators

February 9, 2009 | 12:27 pm

Villaraigosa Calling the ongoing three-year drought a crisis, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa today called for severe  water-use restrictions and a tiered rate system that would reward customers who conserve and punish those who don’t with higher bills.

Lawn watering would be restricted to two days a week, Mondays and Thursdays, and could be cut to one day a week by summer if the drought continues, Villaraigosa said. The mayor made his announcement on a rainy winter day, but L.A.'s current wet weather is not expected to ease the drought. Restrictions   could be imposed as early as March but would have to be approved by the City Council and commissioners at the city's Department of Water and Power.

The increased conservation measures are proposed because the Metropolitan Water District, a major wholesale water supplier to Los Angeles and the rest of Southern California, has warned that the worsening drought may force it to cut water deliveries by 15% to 25%.

“We’re headed into a crisis that we have not seen in decades," Villaraigosa said at a morning news conference in City Hall.

How much would water abuse cost residents?

The mayor urged the DWP to approve “shortage-year" rates, a tiered pricing system that encourages customers to conserve by charging more for water as usage increases. Customers who meet the city’s conservation targets would not see their bills increase -- and could even pay less -- the mayor said.

It will be up to the DWP’s board to set those conservation targets, and the price increases embedded in the proposed shortage-year rates, when it meets later this month. Customers could be asked to cut their water consumption by an additional 8% to 15%, or face steeper water rates if they do not.

Statewide, reservoir levels are at their lowest levels since the 1976-79 drought. The Eastern Sierra snowpack, a major source of water for the city, is also 71% of normal. Water that Southern California receives from the Colorado River Aqueduct and State Water Project also have fallen sharply, all of which is “grim news" to water users in Los Angeles, said DWP General Manager H. David Nahai.

-- Phil Willon

Photo: Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa speaks at a news conference last September at Jim Gilliam Park in Los Angeles. Credit: Los Angeles Times.

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