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By Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES, April 8 Despite dire warnings of
water shortages due to prolonged drought, the Los Angeles City
Council on Wednesday rejected a plan to ration water in the
nation's second-largest city for the first time in 18 years.
The unanimous 15-0 vote against the plan marked a surprise
setback for Los Angeles water managers, who like their peers in
cities throughout California were directed to cut water use 20
percent this year under a drought emergency proclaimed by
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
But David Nahai, general manager of the Los Angeles
Department of Water and Power, the nation's biggest municipal
utility, insisted that the proposal was not dead.
"The city must cut back its water use. There are no two
ways about that," Nahai told Reuters after the vote.
He said the council's rejection stemmed not from
disagreement over a need for mandatory conservation measures
but from questions about how the plan would work and whether it
amounted to a rate hike rather than a rationing scheme.
For procedural reasons, he said, the council had no choice
but to disapprove the measure for now in order to buy more time
to review the matter.
As adopted by the LADWP and endorsed by Mayor Antonio
Villaraigosa, the plan calls for homes and businesses to pay a
penalty rate -- nearly double normal prices -- for any water
they used in excess of a reduced monthly allowance.
But Nahai insisted the measure was "revenue neutral,"
designed entirely to encourage conservation.
The only other time such penalty pricing was imposed in Los
Angeles was a year-long rationing system instituted in March
1991, at the height of California's last statewide drought.
The current dry spell, now in its third year, is considered
the worst to hit the state since the 1970s.
The Los Angeles rationing plan was to have taken effect by
June 1 barring City Council action to block it.
Nahai said he hoped to gain council support for the measure
after taking more time to explain the measure to the public.
A spokesman for the mayor, Matt Szabo, said the
Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which
supplies 70 percent of the city's water, would impose rationing
on Los Angeles if the city fails to take action itself.
(Editing by Bernie Woodall and Bernard Orr)