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Amid a growing water crisis across the state, officials warned Monday that they will cut water to Southern California farmers 30 percent by early next year and are drafting plans that could force residential water rationing for the first time in more than a decade.

The moves come as a combination of drought, rising demand, fragile ecosystems and endangered fish has dramatically reduced the region's water supply.

Officials with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California -- the agency that sells water to cities in the region -- said the factors could push wholesale rates up as much as 10 percent within two years.

And they predicted that the trends could mean the region will lack water to meet all of Southern California's demands about 70 percent of the time.

"If we are going to be effectively short on imported water 70 percent of the time, we're going to have to make that up through conservation and changing our lifestyle here in Southern California," said Jeff Kightlinger, the MWD's general manager.

The MWD imports water from the Colorado River and Sacramento-- San Joaquin Delta, but the river is in the eighth year of a drought that has significantly reduced that supply.

And a recent court ruling has significantly reduced how much water can be exported from the Delta -- where the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers merge -- to prevent the extinction of a tiny fish that keeps getting sucked into massive water pumps.

In the wake of the ruling, the MWD will have to cut its supply of water from Northern California by 25 percent.

"That really turns our world of reliability on its head," Kightlinger said. "People will feel this."

MWD officials also are talking about water rationing for the first time since 1991 even as the agency has spent $6 million this year encouraging people to conserve water.

"We're dealing with 28 percent of normal (rainfall) and it would be very tough to handle another year without some serious shortage allocation (or rationing)," said MWD board of directors Chairman Timothy Brick.

Brick said that this year the agency, for the first time, also is withdrawing a significant supply from its stored water in reservoirs and groundwater, pulling out 500,000 acre-feet of water -- enough for 1 million families.

Still, MWD officials said they might need to raise wholesale water rates 5 percent to 10 percent in 2009 to pay for water purchases, transfers and other programs to acquire more water for Southern California.

Customer rates are set by individual water providers and would likely vary depending on how much water the providers get from the MWD.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is the MWD's largest customer, but the utility is in a less dire situation at the moment because L.A. has groundwater in the San Fernando Valley and it imports water from the Owens Valley in the eastern Sierras.

"The alarm bells haven't gone off. We want to wait until February or March to see the drought (status) and the snowpack," DWP Commissioner Nick Patsaouras said.

However, if the dry conditions continue and supply from the Delta remains limited, the DWP will consider rationing and structuring water rates higher for people who do not limit their consumption, he said.

Meanwhile, to help shore up the state's dwindling water supply, state officials are planning to place another water bond on the ballot next year -- even after voters approved $9.5 billion in bonds for water projects last year.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed a $9.1 billion bond, while state Sen. Don Perata, D-Oakland, has authored a $6.8 billion proposal.

One of the main differences, and a source of significant political controversy in Sacramento, is that the governor's bond would fund dams and reservoirs in Northern California.

The Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee passed the Perata bond and sent it to an expected full floor vote today. But it rejected Schwarzenegger's proposal.

Assembly Republican Leader Mike Villines, R-Fresno, said he was "extremely disappointed" with the committee's actions and vowed that the Perata plan would not get the two-thirds vote it needs to be placed on the ballot.

"Last week, Assembly Republicans made it clear that we would not support any measure that is not a comprehensive plan that benefits all regions of the state," Villines said in a written statement. "Our position has not changed and for that reason, we will be rejecting this irresponsible plan."

Aaron McLear, a spokesman for the governor, said Schwarzenegger will continue to negotiate with Perata in an effort to get some of the governor's ideas included in the bill.

Perata said he is prepared to support a signature-gathering effort to get it on the ballot if he can't get it through the Legislature.

That would likely mean the measure would not be put before voters until November 2008, rather than February.

"What we have done is crafted, I think, the broadest possible bond that deals with immediate priorities," Perata said. "It will ensure safe, clean drinking water; promote conservation while protecting our environment: the lakes, the rivers, the streams. And keep pace with the statewide water demands."

Perata said if nothing is done to expand the state's water supply, drastic steps might have to be taken, including a moratorium on new building permits in fast-growing areas such as the Inland Empire.

Perata's proposal gained wide support from a variety of local water agencies and environmental groups during the hearing. The only critics were those who said they prefer the governor's proposal because of the dams.

Environmental groups have concerns about the potential damage to ecosystems caused by new dams, while some lawmakers have also said the state should not pay a higher share for projects that previously have been funded primarily at the local level.


(213) 978-0390

Conservation checklist


Retrofit indoor-plumbing fixtures with low-flow devices.

Repair any leaks.

Keep showers to less than five minutes.

Turn off the water while brushing your teeth.

Turn water faucets off tight.

Run the dishwasher and washing machines only when full.


Studies show that the average homeowner uses more than four times the actual amount of water needed to keep a lawn healthy and green. Use the watering calculator and watering index found at to learn how to water.

Avoid watering when it's hottest and on windy days between the hours of 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Install pool and spa covers to minimize water loss.

Do not hose down driveways, sidewalks and other paved surfaces, unless for health or sanitary reasons.

How much you can save

Turn off the water when you brush your teeth: 3 gallons per day.

Shorten your showers by one or two minutes: 5 gallons per day.

Fix leaky faucets: 20 gallons per day

Wash only full loads of laundry: 15 to 50 gallons per load.

Water your yard only before

8 a.m. to reduce evaporation and interference from wind:

25 gallons per day.

Install a smart sprinkler controller: 40 gallons per day.

Use a broom instead of a hose to clean driveways and sidewalks: 150 gallons each time.

Check your sprinkler system for leaks, overspray and broken sprinkler heads: 500 gallons a month.

Frequently asked questions

Q. What's the problem?

A. A federal court order issued in August reduced allocations from California's two largest water-delivery systems by up to one-third to protect the endangered delta smelt. Environmental groups have requested further reductions to protect salmon runs.

Q. How will the court ruling affect consumers?

A. Local public water agencies will be assessing the direct impacts, but are encouraging voluntary conservation. Long Beach has already imposed restrictions for residents and businesses. In addition, farmers in the San Joaquin Valley, Inland Empire and San Diego may have to cancel some crop planting this winter and spring.

Q. Is that all?

A. No. Statewide water storage and delivery systems have not been significantly improved in three decades despite the growth in the state's population.

In addition, the state is facing severe drought conditions, with 2007 ranking as a record dry year in some areas. This comes even as global warming is reducing our mountain snowpack, which is a critical source of natural water storage.

Q. What are the long-range prospects?

A. The collective impact of the drought, court-ordered reductions, climate change and increased population means conservation alone is unlikely to alleviate the water shortage.

Q. Where can I get more information?

A. There are several resources including and is overdrawn m. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power also has water-conservation tips and information at

Sources: Association of California Water Agencies, Daily News research


2 photos, 4 boxes, chart


(1 -- color) no caption (faucet)(2 -- color) no caption (sprinkler)


(1 -- 2) Conservation checklist (see text)

(3) How much you can save (see text)

(4) Frequently asked questions (see text)


Water woes

SOURCE: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 9, 2007

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