District warns of water shortage

Metropolitan Water District asks customers to save 20 gallons a day or face possible rate increase

Orange County Register – By Doug Ivring

Orange County water suppliers want to put an end to long, hot showers.

They want people to turn off the faucet when they brush their teeth, and to start using a broom instead of a hose to clean the driveway. Most of all, they want everybody to start paying close attention to how much water they use – and to start saving 20 gallons a day.

The county isn’t facing the kind of strict water limits and usage penalties it saw in the early 1990s – not yet, anyway. But its main supplier, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, has put it on notice that rate increases and rationing are coming.

Water officials around the county say it’s too early to say how those rate increases will be passed on to customers. It’s not too early, they say, for customers to start making changes in their lives – from watering the flowers less to getting out of the shower quicker – to help conserve water.

“We need to conserve water,” said Bob Hill, the general manager of the El Toro Water District. “We need to do that all the time.”

The problem is not just the dust-dry weather that has parched Southern California for more than a year. The Metropolitan Water District also expects to face a supply shortage next year because of an endangered fish.

The district provides water to cities and local agencies in Orange County and across Southern California. It draws that water, in part, from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in Northern California.

But a federal judge has limited the flow of water from the Delta to protect the endangered Delta smelt. The water district estimates that it will lose up to 30 percent of its supply from the Delta next year, even as record drought thins its other sources of water.

Its supply “will not be sufficient to meet the demand” at least some of the time, MWD General Manager Jeff Kightlinger said.

That means the water district will have to use other, more expensive sources of water. It has already set its water rates for next year; but in 2009, it could raise them by up to 10 percent.

The district already plans to cut water deliveries to farms and other agricultural users in January. It’s also putting together a plan to limit how much water it makes available to cities and other local water suppliers if conditions worsen.

That would likely lead to the kind of mandatory water-rationing that Southern California experienced 15 years ago.

“We’re getting it ready,” Kightlinger said. “We’re not implementing it.”

Orange County water officials say they’re not waiting for the district to ration water to ask their customers to cut back. The Municipal Water District of Orange County wants every resident, every day, to conserve 20 gallons of water.

That means running washing machines and dish washers only with full loads. It means repairing leaky hoses and leaky toilets. It means shorter showers, half-full baths, drier lawns and dirtier cars.

The district has started a “Water Heroes” program for grade-school kids, giving them badges and books of tickets they can write for water waste. It has more information posted at www.ocwaterhero.com.

It’s working on other water-saving initiatives – including rebates to encourage people to replace their natural lawns with artificial turf.

Voluntary water conservation “is going to be our first line of attack,” said Marcie Edwards, the general manager of Anaheim Public Utilities. But she added: “If you know someone who can do a rain dance … “

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