L.A. County OKs new wa­ter plan

Los Angeles Times - - THE NATION - By Abby Sewell and Sarah Parvini abby.sewell@la­times.com sarah.parvini@la­times.com Times staff writer Jean Merl con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Su­per­vi­sors adopt new con­ser­va­tion rules that will pe­nal­ize heavy users in An­te­lope Val­ley, Malibu.

Los An­ge­les County su­per­vi­sors voted Tues­day to adopt a con­ser­va­tion plan that will pe­nal­ize heavy wa­ter users in the An­te­lope Val­ley, Malibu and Topanga ar­eas.

Un­der the pro­posal — in­tended to al­low the county to com­ply with state drought man­dates — most com­mer­cial wa­ter users and mul­ti­fam­ily res­i­den­tial units in the An­te­lope Val­ley that are served by the county wa­ter­works dis­trict will be re­quired to cut back by 32% from their 2013 us­age. The plan is set to take ef­fect this month. In the Malibu and Topanga ar­eas, the re­duc­tions will be 36%.

For most sin­gle-fam­ily res­i­den­tial cus­tomers, the tar­get fig­ure would be cal­cu­lated based not on their own us­age but by de­duct­ing the per­cent­age re­duc­tion from the en­tire area’s av­er­age us­age in 2013. Those who go over the tar­get would even­tu­ally face penalty charges that dou­ble or triple the cost of wa­ter.

That has drawn an out­cry from res­i­dents with large fam­i­lies or prop­er­ties, some of whom would be re­quired to cut their use 90%. An­te­lope Val­ley res­i­dents showed up en masse to protest the plan at a hear­ing last week and a pair of Malibu City Coun­cil mem­bers wrote a guest ed­i­to­rial in a lo­cal news­pa­per im­plor­ing county of­fi­cials to not pe­nal­ize “those cus­tomers who have al­ready worked hard to cut back on their wa­ter us­age.”

In re­sponse to the con­cerns, county su­per­vi­sors de­cided that in the first year of the con­ser­va­tion plan, the penal­ties be re­duced: The sur­charge would be halved so peo­ple who slightly ex­ceed their al­lot­ment face a bill 150% higher rather than 200%. How­ever, if they ex­ceed the tar­get by more than 15%, the bill be dou­bled.

The su­per­vi­sors also agreed to look at adding more work­ers to deal with wa­ter bill ap­peals, hold com­mu­nity meet­ings in the af­fected ar­eas and con­sider cre­at­ing cit­i­zen com­mis­sions to over­see the county wa­ter­works dis­trict.

Su­per­vi­sor Sheila Kuehl, whose dis­trict in­cludes Malibu, re­quested the ini­tial re­duc­tion to give res­i­dents time to ad­just.

But she said, “I do very much sup­port the sur­charge be­cause it is a way to say to peo­ple we’re re­ally se­ri­ous about this. Peo­ple are in de­nial about it.”

All sur­charge rev­enue will be placed in a spe­cial ac­count to pay for wa­ter con­ser­va­tion ef­forts.

Gary Hilde­brand, deputy direc­tor of the county’s public works depart­ment, said the plan was meant to re­ward peo­ple who are al­ready con­serv­ing and shift the bur­den to heavy users.

Hilde­brand said house­holds with more than four peo­ple or other spe­cial cir­cum­stances would be able to ap­peal the charges. More than one-third of cus­tomers in the An­te­lope Val­ley and nearly half of those in the Malibu dis­trict are al­ready us­ing less wa­ter than the tar­get fig­ure, wa­ter of­fi­cials said.

Karen Gekel­man, who lives in Topanga and will be re­quired to cut her us­age by as much as 65% — to 16 units of wa­ter in Jan­uary and Fe­bru­ary of 2016 from 46 — said she and her hus­band have al­ready re­duced their wa­ter use, in­clud­ing wa­ter­ing their lawn only twice a week, lim­it­ing the num­ber of times they f lush the toi­let and not wash­ing her hair ev­ery day.

“What do I have to do now? Shower once a week or sponge bathe for­ever?” Gekel­man asked. She noted that as she was driv­ing home from the county meet­ing, the hill­side off the 101 Free­way was be­ing wa­tered in the mid­day sun.

In Lake Los An­ge­les, an arid work­ing-class com­mu­nity in the An­te­lope Val­ley, Ruth Gon­za­lez, 51, was dis­traught about the re­stric­tions even though she’s al­ready meet­ing the new monthly us­age tar­get for her area. She said she has stopped wa­ter­ing the plants on her 2 1/2-acre lot. Her fruit trees — peaches, nec­tarines and cher­ries — have all dried up. She’s cut back on showers and laun­dry so she can keep giv­ing wa­ter to her an­i­mals: a horse that be­longs to her brother-in-law, three dogs and a cage full of birds.

“I would rather go with­out than them not have any,” Gon­za­lez said.

Nearby, 82-year-old Mar­garet Miller said she had been fined $100 for her wa­ter use af­ter putting in her front lawn last year. Now she said she wa­ters her lawn and roses only once a week. The roses have started to bloom, but her front yard is brown­ing. Miller said she’s wor­ried about how she will af­ford the in­creased wa­ter bill if she can’t cut back enough, but added that she hopes the drought will end soon.

“Texas had a drought. Now look at it, it’s f lood­ing,” she said. “The good Lord didn’t say you’re go­ing to be dry for­ever.”

The county is also re­quired to re­duce ur­ban wa­ter use in Ma­rina del Rey, Kagel Canyon, Val Verde and Ac­ton by 25%. Res­i­dents in those ar­eas will be re­stricted in their out­door wa­ter­ing, but will not face sur­charges for ex­cess use.

Kirk McKoy Los An­ge­les Times

MOST AN­TE­LOPE Val­ley com­mer­cial and mul­ti­fam­ily res­i­den­tial units served by the county wa­ter­works dis­trict will have to cut back 32% from their 2013 us­age. Above, the drought’s ef­fect on area blooms in March.

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