LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Southern California’s water wholesaler voted on Tuesday to cut its deliveries to cities and communities by 15 percent as the state clamps down on water usage amid a devastating four-year drought.
The Metropolitan Water District’s plan aims to put cities in the greater Los Angeles area in compliance with an order by Governor Jerry Brown to reduce water use by 25 percent, the first mandatory statewide reduction in California history.
Beginning in July, two-dozen member agencies will be fined up to four times their regular rates for demanding excess water. Those penalties will range from $1,480 to $2,960 per acre-foot of water.
The cutbacks are expected to last a year, with opportunities each month to amend the system. A formal reconsideration is scheduled for December, during the rainy season.
If Brown’s statewide plan succeeds, businesses and residents will use only three-quarters of the amount they used in 2013. The savings would amount to some 1.5 million acre-feet of water in the next nine months, just as the state snowpack is at its lowest level on record.
The Metropolitan Water District (MWD) has imposed its own restrictions only four times since 1977. The last instance was in 2008, when Southern California succeeded in reaching a 10 percent reduction goal. Officials are optimistic local agencies will again meet their targets.
“I have a lot of faith that Southern Californians will rally toward this,” MWD General Manager Jeffrey Kightlinger said, adding, “It’s not time to panic.”
Some board members had pushed for a higher cutback rate of 20 percent – a difference of 100,000 acre-feet, or 326,000 gallons (1.2 million liters). Just one acre-foot can provide for two average households a year.
“We’re spending down our savings account and hoping to win the lottery to pay it back,” board member Judy Abdo, who represents Santa Monica, said at Tuesday’s meeting.
But the agency voted for the lower amount, deeming it a manageable target. The current plan will conserve about 300,000 acre-feet of water.
Kightlinger said the water supply drop combined with incentives to conserve – such as rebates to rip out thirsty lawns – will help Southern California reach its state target of a 25 percent cutback.
It will be up to retailers to decide if they need to hike consumer rates to discourage use and deflect penalties, officials added.
Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Eric Beech