Pasadena Council Approves Voluntary Water Conservation Measures

The Pasadena City Council approved voluntary water use restrictions on Monday night. The council could adopt mandatory restrictions in the future if the water situation worsens. KPCC's Molly Peterson says the city's water utility is warning about a serious shortage.

Molly Peterson: I'm standing in a spreading pool belonging to the Pasadena Department of Water and Power. Which, this time of year, normally would be about 60% full. It's bone dry.

Brad Bowman: We have the perfect drought.

Peterson: Pasadena's Water Engineering Manager, Brad Bowman, says the aquifers that store more than half the city's supply are low. Bowman says threats to supply are the worst the city's seen in 20 years.

Bowman: We have low local rainfall. We have a drought on the Colorado River Basin. And also we're being restricted on the state water project which is our northern California water.

Peterson: A court order's the cause of that: a federal judge has ruled that the Delta's pumps can't run water to Southland users if that pumping harms a tiny endangered fish called the delta smelt. The ruling could cut almost a third of the region's northern water supply as early as next week.

That could mean deja vu for Pasadena. 15 years ago, Water Services director Shan Kwan says, the city reduced its water usage 15% under voluntary cutbacks. He hopes people can change their behavior again.

Shan Kwan: Like the water conservation devices, once you install those, you know, the low flow shower heads, the faucets, they are permanent. But behavior wise, I think people tend to relax a little bit and go back to their old ways. And that's why we're advertising to make sure people realize that they need to help again.

Peterson: Kwan and other water managers were careful to say that right now the threat of shortfall is just that. The city's got storage for the foreseeable future. But Brad Bowman says every well has a bottom.

Bowman: If it continues to be dry, we can't look to the groundwater basin to be the savior to get us through any droughts.

Peterson: Bowman says that if the next two months aren't wet, Pasadena and other Southland cities could move from voluntary to mandatory water restrictions by spring.