SOUTH GATE — For the first time in the city's history, people are being asked to voluntarily curtail their use of water during peak hours this summer.
The conservation move is needed because the city has closed almost half the wells that have supplied the municipal system due to chemical contamination in the past two years, city officials said.
As a cost-saving measure, people are being asked to restrict their use of water every day between 3 p.m. and 10 p.m., from mid-July to the end of September.
Because of the contamination, the city is forced to replace its well-water supplies with costlier water bought from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.
During the seven-hour restriction every day, people will be asked to stop such common practices as watering lawns, washing cars or sidewalks or filling swimming pools.
All 72,000 customers of the South Gate Municipal Water system, from large water users such as nurseries and parks to most of the city's residents, are being urged to use most of their water before 6 a.m. and after 11 p.m. daily.
Exempt are about 5,000 residents of Hollydale in the southeast portion of the city who are served by the Southern California Water Co.
An informational flyer was being drafted this week by city officials to be mailed next week to residents, commercial and industrial users.
Officials are also considering putting the conservation campaign on the city's cable television program and perhaps advertising in the local newspaper.
The effort to achieve voluntary cutbacks comes on the heels of a proposal tabled June 29 by the City Council that would have imposed fines of up to $100 on persons who failed to restrict water usage.
Under the proposal, customers would have been warned for a first violation, fined $10 for a repeat offense, with subsequent penalties ranging to a maximum $100 fine for a fifth violation. Unpaid fines could have resulted in water being turned off.
"I asked that the issue be taken off the agenda," said Mayor Henry C. Gonzalez. "I didn't think people needed to be hit over the head with a sledgehammer to make them comply. And the council agreed with me."
"With the shutdown of the wells, if everyone started using water during the summer months at the same time, it could close our entire system down," Gonzalez said.
In November, 1985, chemical contamination forced the city to close the first of the wells. Two more were closed in January, 1986, with the last two wells shut in December, 1986.
Supplied Half of Supply
In 1985, the five wells supplied nearly half of the volume of the municipal water system. The lost supplies now must be drawn from the Metropolitan Water District.
The wells--four in South Gate Park and one just off Garfield Avenue--were ordered closed by the city after laboratory tests showed that levels of tetrachloroethylene and dichloroethylene exceeded the state Department of Health Services' recommended standards. Dichloroethylene was found in only one well. Both chemicals are residuals of industrial solvents and de-greasers.
The traces of chemicals found in the wells pose a very small health risk, health officials have stated.
However, Gonzalez said the city closed the wells because "we were concerned about the health of the citizens." They will be reopened when the city develops a way to purify the well water, Gonzalez said.
The city augments its well water supply with purchases from the Metropolitan Water District. The city gets about 10% of its water supply from Metropolitan Water.
The city pays $232 per acre-foot (an acre-foot equals 325,800 gallons) for purchases from the district, while it costs the city about $115 to $120 per acre-foot to pump water from its own wells, said Rollie D. Berry, director of public works for South Gate.
"We are asking the customers to use less water at a particular time. We are asking them to spread their usage out," Berry said.
"We are telling customers to work with us, to help us," Gonzalez said. "If an excessive amount of water is used during peak hours and the system runs low, we must purchase more water from Metropolitan Water. This would cost us more, and the cost would have to be passed onto the customer."
Water rates are currently 65 cents per 750 gallons for both commercial and residential customers. The last increase, amounting to 5 cents, was in October, 1986. The preliminary city budget for 1987-88 does not included a water-rate increase.
Meanwhile, Boyle Engineering Corp. of Newport Beach is designing a treatment facility that would remove or reduce the contaminants in the wells, Berry said. The design is costing approximately $100,000 and construction could cost more than $1 million, Berry said.
Some time in the near future, Berry said, the council must find methods, which could include rate hikes, for financing construction of the facility as well as maintenance and repair of the system.
Berry said he hopes that the aeration facility, which would remove the contaminations through a water- and air-pumping process, would be ready by next summer.