Legal Alerts Apr 08, 2015

Proposed Framework for Mandatory Water Use Reductions in California Released

Fast Track Ahead for Emergency Regulations

Proposed Framework for Mandatory Water Use Reductions in California Released

The State Water Resources Control Board late Tuesday issued the draft framework for forthcoming emergency regulations designed to help the state conserve water in the face of severe drought. Under an executive order issued by Gov. Jerry Brown last week, the Water Board was directed to develop, impose and enforce mandatory water reduction measures aimed at achieving a statewide 25 percent reduction in potable urban water use. The Water Board is moving quickly. Draft emergency regulations will be released April 17. Adoption is scheduled for May 5 or May 6.

The Water Board’s draft regulatory framework provides the concepts that will be used to develop the new emergency regulations. The framework can be found under the “Documents” tab here.

Larger Urban Water Providers: Four Tiers of Required Conservation
The framework places 411 urban water providers into four tiers of required conservation levels. The tier classifications range from 10 percent to 35 percent. Assignments to these “conservation standards” are based on each of the water suppliers’ per capita usage in September 2014. Areas with high per capita use must achieve proportionally greater reductions than those with low use. At the low end, 18 water suppliers must achieve 10 percent potable water savings, while 126 must achieve 20 percent, 132 must achieve 25 percent, and 135 must achieve 35 percent. The Water Board has posted a complete listing of these “urban water suppliers,” which serve more than 3,000 customers or deliver more than 3,000 acre-feet of water annually, which can be found with the draft framework under the “Documents” tab here.

Under the proposal, compliance by the 411 urban water suppliers would be assessed for the period of June 2015 through February 2016. Enforcement tools may include warning letters, orders for information, cease and desist orders, and fines of up to $10,000 for each day out of compliance. In addition, the draft framework includes new reporting requirements to assess compliance by commercial, industrial and institutional sector customers and actions taken by urban water suppliers to reduce water usage in these sectors.

Small Water Providers: Mandatory 25 Percent Water Savings
The framework also addresses the 2,600 “small water suppliers” in the state that serve fewer than 3,000 customers or deliver less than 3,000 acre-feet of water annually. The framework proposes that they be uniformly required to achieve a 25 percent potable water savings compared to their 2013 usage. For the first time, these smaller suppliers would have to report their water use and conservation measures to the Water Board in the form of a one-time report due 180 days after the effective date of the new emergency regulations. The same enforcement tools as those used for larger urban suppliers could come into play.

Per last week’s Executive Order, the following measures also will be put into place through the forthcoming emergency regulation process:

  • The use of potable water outside newly constructed homes and buildings that is not delivered by drip or micro-spray systems will be prohibited.
  • The use of potable water to irrigate ornamental turf on public street medians will be prohibited.

The Water Board also will consider adding requirements for large landscape users such as colleges, golf courses and cemeteries that are not served by the type of water suppliers discussed above to achieve the 25 percent statewide reduction in potable urban water use.

The Water Board seeks feedback on the draft regulatory framework, as well as other ideas for structuring a 25 percent reduction in potable water use. Comments and ideas should be submitted to Jessica Bean at by April 13. More information about public input can be found in this fact sheet.

It is important that water agencies act quickly and be in-the-know about all the new drought-related measures. BB&K attorneys stand ready to assist in navigating these fast-moving and complex regulations, and have already helped numerous clients take immediate steps to ensure compliance. Kelly Salt has assisted agencies in revising their water conservation and water shortage contingency plans to comply with the Executive Order and Water Board drought regulations. She has also helped public agencies develop new water rate structures, drought surcharges and penalties to encourage water conservation, as well as draft water efficient landscape ordinances.

In the face of prolonged drought conditions and increasingly constrained supplies, BB&K attorneys Eric Garner, Steven Anderson, Paeter Garcia and others are advising public agency and private clients throughout California on water rights issues involving surface supplies, groundwater and adjudicated basins. Andre Monette is working with clients on initiatives to recycle waste water for direct use and groundwater recharge as part of their conservation measures.

If you have any questions about the current emergency regulatory process or how it may impact your agency, please contact the attorney authors of this legal alert listed to the right in the firm’s Environmental Law & Natural Resources and Special Districts practice groups, or your BB&K attorney.

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Disclaimer: BB&K legal alerts are not intended as legal advice. Additional facts or future developments may affect subjects contained herein. Seek the advice of an attorney before acting or relying upon any information in this communiqué.

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