PASADENA — With the threat of a serious drought on the horizon, the city water department has proposed controls on water use that include the possibility of rationing.
The program would begin with voluntary cutbacks on washing cars, watering lawns and serving water in restaurants.
But if conditions get worse, the program would become mandatory. The city could require residents and businesses to reduce their water use by up to 45%.
David C. Plumb, general manager of the Water and Power Department, said the city has enough water now but needs such measures to ensure quick action if the drought continues.
The Board of Directors is scheduled to consider the proposed ordinance Monday. But it has already run into opposition from Director Rick Cole, who called it "backward, punitive and ineffective."
Cole said it wrongly focuses on homeowners instead of large institutional users and would have a limited affect on water conservation.
He criticized the fines that would be levied against water wasters if mandatory steps are taken, saying they would do little to educate the public about the long-term benefits of water conservation.
And even if mandatory steps are approved, he said, they would be unenforceable.
"Let's be serious: Who's going to be looking for violations?" Cole asked. "If there is such a big problem, and I believe there is, let's not horse around by having the water police chase down people washing their cars."
West Covina has already adopted a voluntary program that calls for residents and the city to reduce the amount of water they use.
The city is urging residents to avoid watering lawns during the hot hours each day, turn off decorative fountains unless the water is recycled, install pool covers, fix leaky plumbing, and avoid hosing down driveways and sidewalks.
According to the plan, approved last week, West Covina will consider mandatory conservation measures, such as those in effect in Northern California's Alameda County, if water consumption is not reduced by 10%.
According to the state Department of Water Resources, the state has suffered through two years of meager snowfall in the Sierra Nevada.
Bill Helms, a spokesman for the department, said snowfall this spring was 30% less than normal, cutting runoff into the Sacramento River Basin, the state's main supplier of water, by half.
The state has experienced a water shortage of this length only twice before, in 1933-34 and 1976-77, Helms said.
The effect has been limited in Southern California, which receives most of its water from the Colorado River, Lake Oroville and underground water basins.
But Jay Malinowski, spokesman for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, said another year of low snowfall could bring severe statewide shortages that would require cutbacks throughout the Southland.
"We're not in all that bad shape," Malinowski said. "But a third year would put the entire state in grim condition."
Pasadena receives about 60% of its water from the Metropolitan Water District and the rest from a natural underground water basin called the Raymond Basin.
The city has taken steps to reduce consumption by offering free low-flow shower heads to the public and cutting back on watering park lawns and gardens. But a more significant reduction will require a citywide effort, Plumb said.
Voluntary controls on water usage could reduce consumption by an estimated 10%, or 100 million gallons a month, in Pasadena, he said.
Under the ordinance's voluntary phase, customers would be urged to refrain from operating water fountains, hosing off driveways, washing cars (except with hoses equipped with shut-off nozzles) and watering lawns more than once every three days.
The second, mandatory phase of the ordinance could take affect only with additional board approval. The third and final phase--water rationing--would begin only if MWD cut back on water supplies to the city, Plumb said.
Customers at first would be allowed up to 85% of the water they used before rationing began, but the amount could shrink to 55% if conditions worsened.
Customers who failed to abide by mandatory restrictions would be warned, then fined at least 15% of their water bill, and finally forced to install a device restricting the flow of water to their homes or businesses.
If the ordinance is approved, Pasadena would become one of 15 to 20 cities in Southern California that have instituted similar measures.
Los Angeles and San Francisco already have started mandatory controls. Los Angeles has banned hosing down driveways, serving water in restaurants unless requested and operating of decorative fountains. The city also has required that all water leaks be repaired.
Cole's major complaint against the proposed Pasadena ordinance is that it would have no long-range affect on water conservation.