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Penalties in Water-Conservation Plan Concern Officials of Some Cities : Drought: They say they might be able to meet goals without such drastic measures.


DOWNEY — Southeast-area water officials agreed Wednesday that water-conservation efforts are necessary in the area, but some city officials balked at a plan to fine residents who waste water.

The directors of the Central Basin Municipal Water District are considering an ordinance that would require a 10% reduction in water usage in a 26-city area in Southeast Los Angeles County.

The proposed ordinance would make "wasteful water practices," such as hosing down driveways or filling decorative fountains, a misdemeanor. Restaurants would also be cited for serving water to customers who don't request it. A violation would be punishable by a maximum fine of $1,000 or six months' imprisonment in county jail.

Central Basin officials said such measures are necessary to persuade consumers to conserve.

"Most of the time, you wouldn't put someone in jail the first time they water their lawn, or water down their driveway," said Water District attorney Wayne Lemieux.

But water officials from some cities said they may be able meet conservation goals without such drastic measures. They asked the Central District directors at a meeting Wednesday to allow individual city councils to decide how to best conserve.

"We may have different approaches to conserving that 10%," said Jack van der Linden, the head of Paramount Water Department.

Central Basin General Manager Richard Atwater said district officials would meet with city and water utility representatives on Monday to discuss the best course of action. The directors of the Central District are scheduled to consider the proposed ordinance after a public hearing Jan. 23.

The proposed ordinance was discussed a day after the MWD decided to require local water agencies, such as the Central Basin District, to reduce their consumption by 17%.

The MWD, which gets most of its water from the State Water Project and the Colorado River, serves water agencies in Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties. The Central Basin District, in turn, sells the water to independent and municipal water companies in 24 Southeast cities. Long Beach and Compton get their water directly from the MWD.

The MWD took the first step in its five-phase water conservation plan last December because the drought has left water supplies, especially in Northern California, alarmingly low.

The first phase was to achieve voluntary cutbacks of 10% for residential and industrial use. A week later, on Dec. 7, the MWD moved to Phase 2, which required mandatory cuts of 5% for residents and 20% for agriculture--or a 10% overall reduction in imported water use.

On Tuesday, the MWD acknowledged worsening conditions and imposed Phase 3, effective Feb. 1. Under the new conservation requirements, mandatory cutbacks in water usage will range from 10% for residential consumers to 30% for agricultural users--an overall reduction of 17% in imported water use.

The Central Basin District and local officials had been meeting in recent weeks to prepare a drought contingency plan. As now proposed, local water companies and city water departments would cut back their consumption of imported water by 17%. If they were not to meet their reductions, they would have to pay nearly three times as much for the additional water.

Such cutbacks would having varying impacts on Southeast area cities because some rely heavily on imported water, while others pump virtually all their water from wells. District officials hope to cut overall water consumption by 10%.

The cities served by the Central District are Artesia, Bell, Bell Gardens, Bellflower, Cerritos, Commerce, Cudahy, Downey, Hawaiian Gardens, Huntington Park, La Habra Heights, Lakewood, La Mirada, Lynwood, Maywood, Montebello, Norwalk, Paramount, Pico Rivera, Santa Fe Springs, Signal Hill, South Gate, Vernon and Whittier.

Long Beach and Compton buy directly from the MWD but are participating in the drought contingency plan, Atwater said.

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