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LA officials look to lower city's water reduction target

(Bryan Frank via Flickr Creative Commons)
Bryan Frank/Flickr Creative Commons
California water officials issued a proposal for a sliding scale of water reduction targets Tuesday that would apply to all California cities.

Infographic: Where is water use decreasing?

As part of proposed drought regulations released Tuesday, the city of Los Angeles would have to cut water use 20 percent by next February. But city officials might try to lower that target before the rules are finalized.

"Twenty percent is going to be a challenge, and we were a little surprised when we saw the numbers last night, when they came out," said Marty Adams, director of water operations for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power in an interview Wednesday. "So we're actually evaluating right now how we're gong to get there, what steps we need, going to take."

Adams said he was surprised because the city has cut water use 25 percent since it instituted mandatory conservation measures in 2007 – the height of the last drought. Adams wants the city to get credit for some of those cuts, and possibly get a lower target.

On Tuesday, state water officials  issued a proposal for a sliding scale of reduction targets that all California cities would fall into. Reductions would be measured against use in 2013 – six years after L.A. started a serious water saving push.

Under the proposal, Los Angeles falls into a category of cities that would be directed to cut water use 20 percent.  That’s because last September -- the month regulators want to set as the benchmark for reduction targets -- Angelenos used about 93 gallons of water per person each day. 

Right now the city of Los Angeles has cut its water use by 7 percent compared to 2013, the year before the governor declared the current drought emergency.

Whatever the final reduction target, Adams says L.A. will aim to reduce water use by focusing on conservation campaigns and targeting enforcement at areas where people use more water.

Those areas tend to be wealthier ones, where single-family homes sit on large lots with landscaping. A report from the California Center for Sustainable Cities at UCLA last year finds that neighborhoods like Sherman Oaks, North Hollywood, Pacific Palisades and Benedict Canyon use significantly more water per customer than neighborhoods dominated by apartment buildings and smaller lots like South L.A.

"We're definitely going to have to get the high users down," Adams said. " I think if people followed all the water conservation ordinance and all the watering to a 'T,' we'd be in pretty good shape. We have to take a hard look [...]to make sure we see savings in those areas."

But while Adams acknowledged it has more to do to save water, Los Angeles also wants credit for the water it has conserved already.

“One of the things we're looking for is a sense of fairness, that the kind of impacts that we're asking our customers to endure are consistent with the kind of impacts they'll see elsewhere in the state,” Adams said.

Adams and other city officials believe that modifications regulators could make to the “baseline” - the time period before drought was declared against which progress is measured in saving water – would be more fair. LA started mandatory outdoor watering restrictions during the last drought period, in 2007.

“We've actually dropped the city's demand 25 percent since then, and that's with the investment of $300 million in the conservation program and hard infrastructure that permanently changes water demand,” Adams said. “While that’s a little far back to look at the whole effort, the point is that the city has been doing so much for so many years.”

LA has routinely recommended this change to regulators, who just as routinely have turned such requests back. But city officials say they continue to press the issue because conservation percentages will affect the price LA pays for water at the Metropolitan Water District.

Adams also strikes a cautious tone about what the next stage of drought regulation means for cutbacks to outdoor watering. LA permits three days a week of watering right now, though Garcetti has called on people to voluntarily reduce to two days.

The next phase in the city's ordinance would cut watering to one permitted day a week. "This is a problem with our current ordinance," Adams says. "The next step is pretty draconian right now." 

“We hope not to have to go to one day a week watering,” he adds. “That'll really start to affect landscapes.”

State water official hope to approve the final reduction targets in May.