Legal Alerts Nov 16, 2015

California Water Restrictions Could Continue Under New Executive Order

Governor Orders Extension If Drought Conditions Linger

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California’s sweeping restrictions on water use could be extended deep into next year under a new Executive Order by Gov. Jerry Brown. If drought conditions persist through January 2016, the Order provides that emergency regulations adopted in May 2015 by the State Water Resources Control Board will be extended through October 2016. 

The emergency regulations were designed to address a relentless four-year drought. Although California has received some precipitation in recent weeks and a wet winter is predicted, Board Chair Felicia Marcus noted in the Board’s most recent news release about water saving that it is important for Californians to keep conserving water because it is uncertain when the drought will end. 

The emergency regulations adopted by the Board on May 5 were designed to achieve an overall 25 percent reduction in potable urban water use in California. The regulations implemented provisions contained in an April 1 Executive Order issued by Brown. They include mandatory potable water production restrictions of up to 36 percent for many water suppliers. The requirements have forced cities and water agencies to adopt tough new local provisions, including tiered water pricing, ramped up patrols, and fines for water wasting. The regulations can be found here

The emergency regulations are considered successful so far: Between June 2015 and September 2015, the state’s 411 urban water suppliers reduced potable water use by 28.1 percent, compared to 2013. The current regulations expire in February. Under Brown’s new Order, issued Friday, “if drought conditions persist through January 2016,” the Board must extend the emergency regulations until Oct. 31, and also consider modifying the restrictions. The California Public Utilities Commission must take similar action for investor-owned utilities that provide water services. The Order can be found here. 

The Board already has contemplated extending the emergency regulations, even for periods after Oct. 31, 2016. A Dec. 7 public workshop is scheduled in Sacramento to address the matter, and written comments are being accepted through Dec. 2. More information can be found in this previous Legal Alert

The new Executive Order also requires that: 

  • The Board, along with regional water quality control boards, prioritize temporary water right permits, water quality certifications, and waste discharge requirements to accelerate approvals for projects that enhance the capture of heavy precipitation events this winter and spring to recharge groundwater supplies.
  • The Board use up to $5 million in 2015 Budget Act funding for permanent solutions to provide safe and reliable drinking water to households served by very small water systems, domestic wells or other individual water supplies.
  • The Energy Commission expedite applications or petitions for amendments to power plant certifications for the purpose of repairing damage to power plant operations due to wildfires.


As with the prior Executive Order, the new Order suspends requirements under the California Environmental Quality Act when the directives in the new Executive Order are carried out. The CEQA exemption applies to state agency actions and to actions by local agencies where the state agency with primary responsibility for the directive agrees local action is needed. 

For more information on these regulations and the comment process, please contact the author of this legal alert listed at the right in the Environmental Law & Natural Resources practice group, 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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