Legal Alerts Dec 2, 2016

Draft Plan Released to Establish Permanent Water Conservation Requirements Throughout California

Public Comments Accepted Until Dec. 19


Urban water agencies would face an increasingly expansive set of water conservation laws and regulations under a new draft plan released Wednesday. The plan, which also addresses water use in agriculture and other sectors, was developed jointly by five state agencies, including the State Water Resources Control Board and the Department of Water Resources. Public comments on the plan are due Dec. 19.

The draft plan was developed in response to Executive Order B-37-16, which Gov. Jerry Brown issued May 9 to address drought preparedness and long-term water conservation. While a number of the draft plan’s provisions would be implemented under already existing authorities, other elements would require either rulemaking by state agencies or new legislation.

During the past two years, water supply agencies have had to deal with challenging emergency water conservation regulations adopted by the State Water Board in the face of a lingering and serious statewide drought. The draft plan moves away from the piecemeal emergency regulatory approach by calling for a new permanent water conservation regime for the State.

A key element involves a requirement that the state’s 410 urban water suppliers meet new water use targets, which would be set locally based on state standards applied to unique local conditions. The proposed new approach is designed to take into account the unique climatic, demographic, geographic and land-use characteristics of each urban water agency’s service area. The Executive Order requires that the new water use targets build on existing statutory requirements that the State achieve a 20 percent reduction in urban water usage by 2020. Under the proposed regime, DWR and the State Water Board would develop new standards by 2020 to address four sectors:

  • Indoor residential per capita water use
  • Outdoor irrigation
  • Water lost through leaks
  • Commercial, industrial and institutional water use

Local urban water suppliers would calculate their own unique water use targets based on the state standards, and would be required to achieve compliance by 2025. The targets would change each year because, although the standards would be permanent, the targets would be based on variable metrics including population, landscape area and evapotranspiration. The draft plan calls for suppliers to submit annual progress reports to the State, as well as monthly and annual water use data. Suppliers failing to meet their targets could face enforcement actions by the State Water Board.

The draft plan implementing the Executive Order contains a number of other elements, including:

  • Potential extension of the Board’s current emergency water conservation regulations, which are in effect through February 2017, for an additional 270 days, depending on ongoing drought conditions.
  • Establishment of permanent monthly urban water use reporting requirements and permanent prohibitions on wasteful water practices, such as hosing down sidewalks, through State Water Board rulemaking.
  • New measures achieved through rulemaking by several agencies to reduce water lost through leaks.
  • New legislation requiring urban water suppliers to submit “Water Shortage Contingency Plans” to the State, to conduct a “Five-Year Drought Risk Assessment” every five years, and to submit a water budget forecast annually to the State.
  • New actions to improve drought preparation among small water suppliers and rural communities.
  • New legislation placing water use efficiency and drought planning requirements, such as water budgets and water management plans, on suppliers of water to agricultural users.

Comments on the draft plan should be submitted to no later than Dec. 19, 2016. More information can be found here.

Best Best & Krieger’s attorneys can assist public agency clients in responding to the draft plan. If you have any questions about this draft plan or how it may impact your agency, please contact the attorney authors of this Legal Alert listed to the right in the firm’s Special Districts 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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