By Bettina Boxall
April 6, 2015

Southern California’s water wholesaler is planning to wield its powerful hammer to force more urban conservation this year by cutting water deliveries.

Faced with dwindling regional reserves and a fourth year of drought, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is expected to vote next week to ration imported water that it supplies to 26 Southland water districts and cities, something the agency has done only twice before.

The cuts, which would take effect July 1, were in the works well before Gov. Jerry Brown imposed a 25% mandatory restriction on urban water use last week. But they are expected to provide a powerful incentive for local agencies to curb demand and help meet the governor’s conservation goals.

Local agencies that need more water than the MWD allocation will be required to pay punitive surcharges of up to $2,960 an acre-foot for the extra deliveries.

For purchases well beyond the allocation, that would increase the price of fully treated MWD water by roughly four times.

The MWD board, made up of 37 representatives of the agency’s member districts, will decide the size of the cutback, which could range from 10% to 20%, or 200,000 to 400,000 acre-feet less than MWD typically delivers. An acre-foot of water is enough to supply two households for one year.

The effects will vary from area to area. Cities that have already been conserving, such as Los Angeles, will probably feel fewer impacts. In areas that have been slow to conserve, water districts will have to strengthen restrictions and boost local rates to avoid financial penalties the MWD will impose on excess demand.

Metropolitan, which imports water from Northern California and the Colorado River, last rationed deliveries in 2009 and 2010, during the previous drought. Then, local districts responded so well that none had to buy high-priced water.

But because continuing conservation efforts have lowered water use in most parts of the urban Southland in recent years, districts may find it harder to stay within their allocations this time.

“The question is how much more can people squeeze out in conservation than they’re already doing,” said Dennis Cushman, assistant general manager of the San Diego County Water Authority.

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