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California Drought: Top Water Supplier Moves Toward Rationing

LOS ANGELES -- One of California's largest water wholesalers moved forward Monday on a plan to reduce the amount of water it delivers to more than two dozen cities and agencies serving 19 million people amid the lengthening drought. If approved by the board of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California on Tuesday, regional water deliveries would be cut by 15 percent beginning in July. The district serves parts of Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties. The effects of the cuts would vary between local water districts. Places that have done a poor job of conserving would have to crack down on outdoor watering and take other conservation measures and boost water rates to avoid paying a high price for extra water.

Several committee members wanted a deeper cut in deliveries — 20 percent — but were outvoted by others who feared it could hurt the economy. Businesses "could be scrambling for the hills" if the reduction was steeper, said Michael Touhey, who represents the Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District.

California is enduring a fourth year of parched conditions, prompting Gov. Jerry Brown earlier this month to call for a mandatory 25 percent cut in urban water use compared with 2013 levels. To meet Brown's goal, the State Water Resources Control Board released draft reduction targets for more than 400 water agencies that must cut their water use by anywhere from 10 percent to 35 percent. The targets are based on per-capita water use. MWD's general manager Jeffrey Kightlinger said limiting water supplies to member agencies is necessary to meet demand and stretch storage reserves, which currently stand at about 1.2 million acre-feet, less than half of what was in storage at the end of 2012. MWD officials said the proposed water delivery restrictions — along with conservation, rebate programs and other tools — could help local water districts meet the governor's goal. The cuts would stay in effect for a year.

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— The Associated Press