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'Drought buster' plan up for a vote

DWP is to weigh in on L.A. mayor's proposal to crack down on the wasting of water, including raising fines.

June 03, 2008|David Zahniser | Times Staff Writer

With hot-weather months drawing near, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is scheduled to move ahead today with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's crackdown on excessive water use, boosting fines for those who violate city water laws and imposing new restrictions on anyone with a garden hose.

The proposed "drought busters" law, which comes up for a vote by the five-member DWP commission, would double water-usage fines for residential customers and quadruple them for businesses and apartment building owners.

H. David Nahai, the DWP's general manager, said he wants the Los Angeles City Council to ratify the plan within weeks.

"We're hoping they will deal with this on a much more expedited basis," Nahai said. "We want this for this summer."

Although the DWP already has rules limiting excessive water use, the agency has not issued any tickets since the drought of the early 1990s.

With roughly a dozen inspectors assigned to impose the fines, utility officials hope to impose new restrictions and enforce those that already exist, such as a ban on the use of hoses to wash down sidewalks and driveways.

"You cannot use water in any fashion to hose down a driveway for mere convenience or to remove dust or dirt," said DWP spokesman Joe Ramallo. "You have to sweep it now."

Under the new water conservation plan, the DWP commission would rework the city's rules on lawn watering, banning irrigation between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. and limiting most automated sprinklers to no more than 15 minutes per day.

The proposal would prohibit residents from washing cars with a hose unless they have a nozzle or other "shut-off device." It would also bar residents from watering their lawns when it rains.

If water consumption does not decrease, the utility could move to Phase II of the plan, banning irrigation altogether four days a week.

The proposed new rules were greeted with scorn by one homeowner activist, who said the cutbacks are being pursued to give Los Angeles enough water to supply new residential development projects.

"Instead of shifting those costs to the new development, what they're proposing to do is distribute the cost evenly to all the ratepayers. That's patently unfair and wrongheaded," said Gerald A. Silver, president of the Homeowners of Encino, who said he plans to continue instructing his gardener to hose off his driveway and sidewalk.

Inspectors will issue warnings until the council votes on the new fines, Ramallo said.

Under the proposal, a first offense would be greeted with a warning. Fines for residential customers would jump to $100 on the second offense and $200 on the third. Commercial customers would pay $200 on the second offense and $400 on the third.

Homeowners would still be allowed to water their lawns all day if they use drip irrigation systems, according to the plan. And utility customers would still be allowed to hose down their sidewalks if there was urine or other dangerous substances on the concrete, if otherwise permitted by law.

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david.zahniser@latimes.com

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