Environment & Science

California drought: Under proposal, city of LA would need to cut water use 20 percent; Beverly Hills, 35 percent

File Photo: A sercret service agent looks over a farm field as President Barack Obama speaks to the media on California's drought situation on February 14, 2014 in Los Banos, California.
File Photo: A sercret service agent looks over a farm field as President Barack Obama speaks to the media on California's drought situation on February 14, 2014 in Los Banos, California.
Pool/Getty Images

Listen to story

Download this story 1MB

Infographic: Where is water use decreasing? | PDF: Proposed water reduction rates

The city of Los Angeles may have to cut water use by 20 percent from two years ago, under a sliding scale of restrictions proposed to cut urban water consumptions statewide by a quarter within a year. 

An executive order signed by Governor Jerry Brown last week requires California cities collectively to cut their water consumption by one quarter. The regulators responsible for enacting the mandate, the State Water Resources Control Board, released a proposed framework Tuesday for achieving that goal.

A possible sliding scale would force the thirstiest urban areas, including Malibu, Beverly Hills, Rancho Palos Verdes, and La Cañada, to face 35 percent cuts, while already-conserving cities would need to reduce consumption far less. 

Only 18 urban water suppliers would face the lightest reductions, including Bell Gardens and San Francisco, requiring just 10 percent cuts. With a calculated daily use rate of 48 gallons a person last September, the month regulators indicate they may use as a benchmark, East Los Angeles' 153,000 residents would fall into this category.

L.A. would fall into the second lowest tier — 20 percent — because its daily rate in September was 92 gallons.

Cities including Manhattan Beach, Garden Grove, Pasadena, and Burbank would have to cut 25 percent because their daily use last September fell between 110 and 165 gallons a person.

Water officials are accepting comment on the reduction schedule through next Monday. Members of the water board have said they're aiming to approve emergency regulations in response to the governor's executive order early next month.

Earlier in the day, water officials reported the weakest monthly water conservation statistics since the state began compiling that data last summer. 

Water use down statewide, up in SoCal

A meager 2.8 percent drop in water use statewide compared to February 2013 was fueled largely by increases in the South Coast and Colorado River hydrological regions that cover Southern California.

The South Coast region, between Ventura and San Diego County, saw an increase in water use of more than 2 percent. And water consumption in the Colorado River region, which includes San Bernardino, Riverside and Imperial counties, inched up half a percent.

Los Angeles, a city of 3.9 million people, and Long Beach, with just under half a million, each reduced water use in February, with L.A. seeing nearly a 6 percent reduction. But more than two dozen other South Coast urban water suppliers serving 8.7 million people increased their use, including the city of San Diego, which saw a jump of nearly 8 percent.

“Today’s announced February results are very disturbing and provides even more support for the Governor’s call for an immediate 25 percent mandatory reduction in urban water use statewide,” said State Water Board Chair Felicia Marcus.

“I know many communities in the state stepped up since last summer and dramatically conserved water. But not enough communities in the state have saved enough water. Beginning today, to assure their own water security as well as help others, communities should restrict outdoor irrigation to the bare minimum. If we dramatically stop watering out-of-doors, we should be able to reduce water use by 25 percent or more in the next several months since an average of 50 percent of urban water use is used outdoors," she said.

Much of the state saw significantly warmer temperatures and less rain than historical averages for February, especially Southern California. State officials surmise that prompted urban water users to turn on their sprinklers to keep lawns green.

At the same time, average water use rose from levels in January, which was also unusually hot and dry. February water use statewide was 77 gallons per person per day compared to 73 gallons the month before.

State regulators singled out some Southern California urban areas for praise. Water districts supplying the cities of Fountain Valley and Big Bear Lake each cut water use by more than 15 percent and saw a per-capita daily water use of less than 60 gallons.

Local water districts consider response to uneven water use

The findings were reported during a meeting of the State Water Resources Control Board, which is responsible for creating new rules and enforcing the reductions ordered by Brown.

Southern California's urban areas continue to consume water in diverse amounts. Locally, water use was all over the map, with some districts cutting back drastically and others using three times or more than the statewide average of 77 gallons per person per day.

The community of Cowan Heights in Orange County logged a daily usage rate of 340 gallons and actually saw increased use. In Los Angeles County, La Cañada-Flintridge posted the largest usage rate of 230 gallons per person per day.

Those rates were offset by other local cities that have low water use or have been cutting back.  The Orange County city of Fountain Valley cut water use by 30 percent in February. Residents of East Los Angeles used, on average, just 44 gallons of water a person each day. 

Southern California's Metropolitan Water District will vote soon on whether to ration water deliveries to the 26 agencies and cities it supplies.

“We’d be looking at cutbacks or restrictions on our member agencies in the range from 10 to 25 percent," Bob Muir, a spokesman for the MWD, told KPCC last week.

If the MWD does cut its allocations, local water suppliers will likely decide whether to raise rates or institute further restrictions on their customers. Some cities, including Long Beach and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, have already stepped up enforcement to spur water savings.

David Pettijohn, director of water resources for LADWP, told KPCC that any change in restrictions would have to wait until after the MWD makes a final decision.

— KPCC staff

Correction: An earlier version of this story indicated that Californians had cut water use statewide by 2.8 percent in February compared with the same month last year. In fact, that figure was given in comparison to February 2013. KPCC regrets the error.

This story has been updated.