File photo
File photo
File photo

CITYWIDE — The drought is getting real for the city by the sea.

City Hall is now asking for a 20 percent reduction in water usage by residents and businesses. City Council could instate a mandatory cutback later this year.

The voluntary reduction aligns with Gov. Jerry Brown’s request earlier this month when he officially declared the drought. Since 2009, City Hall has been asking for a 10 percent reduction.

In May or June city officials may recommend that council approve a mandatory 15 percent curtailment in water usage.

Residents and businesses would have a water use allowance. They would be fined if they exceed the allowance. Businesses would be allowed to use 95 percent of the amount of water they used the year before.

Water usage last month was up by 20 percent from the same time a year ago. Santa Monica used an average of 11.42 million gallons per day in December compared to 9.36 the year prior.

Santa Monica buys about 30 percent of its water from the Metropolitan Water District (MWD). Northern California and the Colorado River, where MWD draws most of its water, have been hit hard by the drought, city officials said.

One condition that could trigger water use allowances would be for MWD to reduce its supply to Santa Monica.

MWD expects to meet its demand in 2014, city officials said.

Plumbing at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel dates back to the 1950s and is even older in some parts. They’ve upgraded parts of the system over the years, said Alan Epstein, an executive at MSD Capital which manages the hotel, but they’ve dealt with pin-hole leaks, burst valves, and leaking tanks over the years.

To conserve water they have waterless urinals and encourage guests to reuse linen and towels. They select plants that require less water.

“Nevertheless, we estimate that 60 (to) 65 (percent) of the water consumed in our hotel is consumed directly by our hotel guests in the privacy of their rooms,” Epstein wrote in an e-mail. “While we can and do promote conservation, we cannot control water consumption by our guests.”

Some restaurants are trying to cut back as well.

At JiRaffe, which also has waterless urinals, they don’t bring glasses of water to tables unless diners ask for it, said General Manager Robert Elizondo.

“There’s nothing worse than having all this water on tables and nobody’s drinking it,” he said. “Then I have to wash that glass and you’re using even more water. Of course, we try to get them to drink wine.”

If City Hall does require mandatory reductions it would not impact JiRaffe greatly, he said.

“You can always tighten your belt a little more,” he said.

Elizondo suggested that City Hall require all restaurants to use 8-ounce water glasses.

Produce costs have risen as the drought has gone on, he said, but they don’t pass that along to the customer.

Local Farmers’ Market vendors are impacted by the drought as well.

For Robbie Erickson, who grows cherries out in Fresno and comes to all the Farmers’ Markets in the spring, the lack of rain means a greater reliance on groundwater and therefore higher costs for him. Some of that cost will get passed on to the consumer.

He’s seen the drought change the face of Farmers’ Markets recently.

“People are dropping out because they can’t produce a crop,” he said. “And of course prices are going up.”

Jonelle George, who grows sumo tangerines with her husband in Tulare County, said the impacts likely won’t be seen until further down the road.

They got a notice from their water district saying that water restrictions are going to be strict this year. If they use too much, they’ll be cut off.

They’ll begin harvesting their sumos next week and start selling them in Santa Monica in mid-February.

“I think this year is the beginning of the critical year,” she said.

If it doesn’t rain, farmers in her area will have to choose which crops they want to water and which ones they will let die.

“Our strategy at this point is we’re praying for rain,” she said. “If it doesn’t rain that is a decision we’ll have to face.”

A majority of City Hall’s water comes from local groundwater.

City Hall recently got a grant from MWD to study the impacts of using stormwater and dry weather runoff at Los Amigos Park. The water would be used for irrigation and toilets.

City Hall kicked the year off by cracking down on residents wasting water on their lawns. Many violations, including irrigation system leaks and the hosing of hardscapes, will no longer be subject to warnings. Fines start at $250.

City Hall offers rebates for residents who replace thirsty grass lawns with more climate appropriate plants. City officials gave out 400 rebates in 2013 and they estimate it saved 3 millions gallons of water.

City officials recommend fixing leaks, watering the garden a little less, and replacing toilets. All toilets sold this year are 20 percent more efficient than models sold last year, city officials said. Rebates are available for toilets as well.

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