Westside cities, despite having been at the forefront of water conservation since the mid-1970s, will almost certainly have to impose mandatory rationing in the coming weeks because of a cut in water supplies delivered by the Metropolitan Water District.
Residents in Santa Monica, Culver City, Beverly Hills and West Hollywood as well as Los Angeles have been cutting back on water usage through water conservation programs that ban hosing down sidewalks and limit lawn watering to early morning and evening.
Santa Monica has gone a step further by requiring existing households to replace water-guzzling plumbing fixtures with low-flow toilets and shower heads or face monthly fines.
But with Tuesday's announcement by the MWD--which supplies water to 27 agencies from Ventura to San Diego--that it was imposing a 31% cut in its deliveries, mandatory rationing is inevitable, city officials said.
"I suspect that will be the case," said Richard Holland, Santa Monica's environmental programs administrator. "There are very few cities in the country that have seen that kind of cutback without going to mandatory rationing."
Santa Monica, Culver City and Beverly Hills are regarded as leaders in the water conservation effort because they have had outdoor watering restrictions in effect since the drought of the mid-1970s. Many other cities imposed similar restrictions then, but relaxed them when the rains returned.
Although the MWD's decision was not unexpected, most Westside cities have yet to draw up a plan to meet the district's goals.
"Scrambling is what we are doing," said Julie Burson of West Hollywood's environmental serivces office. "We are already getting tons of calls. We're really freaked out."
Most cities are scheduled to discuss proposals in early March, and are expected to follow a plan endorsed this week by a Los Angeles City Council committee.
The Los Angeles rationing plan would require residents and businesses to reduce water usage by 10% from 1986 levels beginning March 1, and by 15% by May 1. The full Los Angeles City Council is expected to approve the proposal at its meeting Tuesday.
Westside city officials said they may use a different year than 1986 as a base year in order to avoid penalizing residents who achieved significant reductions in water usage more than a decade ago.
Robert Bammes, Beverly Hills public works administrator, said his city is considering creating an appeals board to exempt individual households that have already cut back significantly.
In some cities, rationing plans are complicated by rent control. The Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday is expected to discuss a proposal that would allow landlords to pass on to tenants 50% of any penalties imposed under the rationing.
The issue of passing through penalties to tenants is especially significant in Santa Monica and West Hollywood because about 80% of their populations are renters. Officials in those cities said proposals are still being formulated.
Meanwhile, some cities are accelerating existing conservation programs. In Santa Monica, for example, a five-year plan to replace 25% of the water-guzzling plumbing fixtures in the city is being speeded up to achieve its goal in three years, according to Holland, the city's environmental programs administrator.
He said that as of last month, about 10% of households have been retrofitted with new water-saving devices. Owners of single-family houses face $1-a-month surcharges on their water bills if they do not comply, and owners of multifamily buildings face a monthly fine of 65 cents per unit.
Holland also said a policy of allowing three warnings before residents were fined for violating lawn-watering rules and other conservation regulations will be modified. Henceforth, only two warnings will be given.
In the unincorporated Los Angeles County areas of Malibu and Marina del Rey, water rationing is also being considered.
Los Angeles County officials have begun putting the word out to Marina del Rey residents, visitors and boat owners to save water or risk "drastic rationing measures."
Beaches and Harbors Director Ted Reed, noting the MWD's 31% cutback, warned this week that the State Water Resources Control Board is seriously considering "even more severe cuts," including limiting household water use to 300 gallons per day. MWD figures show that water use near the coast runs about 110 gallons a day per person, Reed said.
He urged boat owners to use buckets or at the very least hoses with shut-off nozzles to wash down their vessels. Washing a car or small boat with the hose running can use 100 gallons of water, Reed said, compared to 15 gallons or less with a bucket and sponge.
Because marina apartments and boat slips do not have individual water meters, Reed said, it has been very easy to waste water. If the overuse continues, he said, financial penalties for wasting water probably will be passed on in the form of higher rents for tenants and boat owners.
Staff writers Barbara Koh, Jeffrey L. Rabin and Kenneth J. Garcia contributed to this story.