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Santa Monica Plans 20% Water Cut, but Sees Some Debate


The Santa Monica City Council is expected to shift the city's water conservation policy into high gear next week by ordering a 20% cutback in citywide water use.

But officials believe their approval of an emergency ordinance may not cause too much pain because of the savings already achieved by residents.

The plan, presented to the council by city staff Tuesday night, calls for a 20% reduction in use from 1990 levels beginning April 1, but it will establish a separate base line so that those who saved water at the behest of the city last year will not suffer.

The document, to be voted on next week, was quickly drafted to meet the requirements of the Metropolitan Water District, which last week announced that starting March 1 it will cut the amount of water allotted to cities it serves by 20%.

Although council members vowed to support the plan, some of its aspects are expected to be debated, including what the 1990 base line of water use should be; whether landlords should be allowed to pass to tenants 75% of any water-related fines, and whether to shut off water to flagrant excessive users.

The city staff estimates that under its plan the average single-family household will have to save about 70 gallons per day and the average apartment or condominium dweller will have to cut use by about 36 gallons per day to meet the plan's requirements.

Craig Perkins, the city's environmental services manager, said the city is developing a plan so that those who were already saving water will not be penalized. "What we want to do is not punish people who were already doing a good job in 1990," Perkins said.

Many residents may already be at the required levels because of a city conservation plan that requires households to replace shower heads and toilets with ultra low-flow fixtures, Perkins said. Residents face monthly fines if they do not comply.

Under the present conservation plan, called BAYSAVER, residents who replace their bathroom fixtures to save water can receive a $100 rebate from the city. Under the new emergency plan being proposed, city officials may offer to replace bathroom fixtures in apartments for $25 per bathroom, Perkins said.

City officials agreed that, because Santa Monica has been a leader in water conservation, the MWD cutbacks will have less of an effect on residents of the city than in others that have not had conservation programs in place.

In 1988, the city developed the BAYSAVER program and required all new development to include low-flow plumbing and in May, 1989, it sought a voluntary 10% cutback in use by limiting times when lawns could be watered and requiring residents to wash their cars with a bucket.

"We've got a jump on everybody because we already started this great conservation program," said Councilman Kelly Olsen. "We already had the system in motion."

But city staff members and officials of the water district warned that there will probably be more cuts to come as a dry summer looms. Former City Councilwoman Christine Reed, Santa Monica's representative to the MWD, predicted that the district may cut water to member cities by as much as 50% this summer.

"At 50% savings, it's real difficult," Reed said. "The burden is going to have to be shared by all of us."

Santa Monica's emergency plan, however, compares favorably with a conservation ordinance passed this week by the Los Angeles City Council, Reed said. The Los Angeles plan calls for a 10% cut in use from 1986 levels by March 1 and an extra reduction of 5% by May 1. "This proposition is slightly more aggressive than L.A.'s," Reed said. "It is advanced."

In the face of further cuts by the MWD, Santa Monica city officials said they will consider banning new hookups to the city's water system. Under the emergency plan, developers may be required to pay fees that would pay for enough low-flow fixtures for nonprofit organizations and schools to save enough water to equal twice what their new developments would use.

Also under the plan, the city would hire five new employees to police water use, give conservation tips and read meters.

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