Los Angeles residents barely missed meeting Mayor Tom Bradley's goal of cutting water use by 10% in July, but officials Thursday again raised the possibility of mandatory water rationing.
"We are concerned about the increase in water consumption from June to July," said James F. Wickser, DWP assistant general manager for water. "We are faced with the very real possibility of mandatory conservation if this trend continues for another month."
Under a water conservation ordinance adopted by the City Council last month, mandatory water rationing will be implemented if residents fail to meet a conservation goal of 10% in any month. In July, DWP customers cut use by 9.8% compared to normal expected usage.
But council members agreed that no rationing plan would be imposed until conservation figures for August were compiled, said Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores, who sponsored the proposal.
The ordinance requires the council to take another vote before rationing is imposed.
The July conservation figures fell dramatically from the performance in June. City residents voluntarily conserved an estimated 15% of their water in June, marking the third consecutive month of lower water use since Bradley first called for conservation in the face of a four-year drought.
The reduction in June followed similar declines in water use of 11.7% in May and 12.2% in April, according to DWP figures. The savings in those three months persuaded council members to delay implementing mandatory water rationing.
If triggered, the rationing plan would limit all residents and businesses to using 90% of the water consumed in comparable periods of 1986--before the drought and the start of city-sponsored conservation efforts. Residents and businesses using more than their allotment would face surcharges and fines for excessive water use.
Mayor Bradley had warned that residents would backslide in their voluntary conservation efforts once the threat of rationing was no longer in the news.
He reaffirmed his support for rationing after seeing the July consumption figures Thursday. "The only fair way to guarantee that residents throughout the city are conserving this scarce natural resource is through a mandatory water conservation plan," Bradley said.
But Flores, who led the effort to delay rationing as long as voluntary conservation efforts were successful, said "I think the citizens of Los Angeles did a good job. . . . The message we need to send out is 'Good for you.' Next month we'll get 10% (savings) and go up from there."
DWP officials could not be sure why conservation levels dropped in July. But Jerry Gewe, senior water engineer heading the conservation measurement project, speculated that as the weather cooled in the last week of the month, residents continued to water their landscapes as they did earlier in the month when Los Angeles was suffering record high temperatures.
The conservation figures compare water consumption to a statistical "expected normal use" and adjusts those numbers for changes in population.