DOWNEY — Beginning Friday, Southeast area cities will have to do without 20% of the water they import for use by residents, business and industry.
The directors of the Central Basin Municipal Water District, which sells imported water to municipal and independent water companies in the area, voted Wednesday to close the spigot a bit more because of the continuing drought. The agency has deepened the level of cutbacks for most of its customers from 10% to 20%.
The action will affect some cities more than others. Pico Rivera, for example, pumps all of its water from wells and will not be affected by Wednesday's action. Others, such as Santa Fe Springs, rely heavily on imported water.
Santa Fe Springs pumps about half of its water from wells and buys the rest from the Central Basin District. That prompted the Santa Fe Springs City Council to pass a resolution requiring residents to reduce water use by 10% starting Friday. Users who do not cut back face surcharges on their water bills ranging from 10% for a first offense to 200%.
"We're developing plans for 25% and 50% reductions" in water use, Public Works Director John Price said.
A handful of other Southeast area cities, including Signal Hill, Montebello and Norwalk, have passed mandatory water conservation ordinances. The ordinances prohibit wasteful uses such as washing down driveways and buildings. They also limit lawn watering to every other day. But not all of the ordinances mandate specific reductions in water use.
These cities are expected to toughen their laws. Other cities probably will enact ordinances to meet the cutbacks imposed by the Central Basin District, officials said.
Some cities hold surplus rights to ground water to make up the shortfall in imported water. The area's aquifers, huge underground fields of water, are relatively full, water officials said.
The Central Basin District is a member agency of the huge Metropolitan Water District, which provides Southern California with water from the State Water Project and the Colorado River.
Through Wednesday's action, the Central Basin District will require the bulk of its customers to reduce water use by 20%. Others, mostly agricultural customers, will be required to make 50% cutbacks. The goal is an overall reduction of 31%.
During February, the Central Basin District required cutbacks ranging from 10% to 30% for an overall reduction of 17%.
Richard W. Atwater, general manager of the Central Basin District, said preliminary figures indicate that the use of imported water fell by only 12% this month, well short of the 17% goal.
Surcharges, which eventually will filter down to individual consumers, are being imposed for the excessive consumption.
The cutbacks in supplies have come as state water analysts report that drought conditions are much worse than previously thought. This year's warm, dry winter has made matters worse.
The most recent bombshell was dropped Monday, when Gov. Pete Wilson announced that all cities and industrial users served by the State Water Project will receive only 10% of normal deliveries for the year.
Because of that, MWD officials say they will be forced to rely almost exclusively on water from the Colorado River.
MWD officials said they will consider reducing supplies of imported water by 49% next week. Atwater said the Central Basin District would pass on those stringent cutbacks in late March.
The district has warned Southeast cities that they must adopt a drought contingency plan by March 31 providing for up to a 50% reduction in water use. The district has threatened to impose an areawide plan if cities do not meet that deadline.
"We may not have to go that far this summer, but we want to have a plan in place," Atwater said.
The cities within the Central Basin 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.