California Water Board Signs Off on Emergency Urban Water Use Restrictions

Stoel Rives LLP

On May 5, 2015, the State Water Resources Control Board (“Water Board”) adopted Emergency Regulations implementing a statewide 25% reduction of potable urban water use, which includes commercial, industrial, and institutional water use, in addition to residential water use. These regulations are in response to Governor Brown’s April 1, 2015 Executive Order mandating a statewide 25% reduction in water use from June 2015 through February 2016, as compared to the same months in 2013.   These regulations apply to all urban water suppliers, as defined in Water Code section 10617, excluding wholesalers.

To achieve the 25% statewide reduction in potable urban water use, the Water Board requires those areas with high per capita water use to achieve proportionally greater reductions than those with low use. The Water Board assigned each urban water supplier to one of nine tiers depending on the per capita water use in the supplier’s distribution area. Suppliers with the highest per capita water use must reduce water consumption by as much as 36%, while suppliers with the lowest water use must reduce water consumption by only 8%. Upon meeting certain requirements and approval by the Executive Director of the Water Board, some suppliers may qualify to be placed in a special tier requiring only a 4% reduction. Small water suppliers, defined as those with fewer than 3,000 service connections, must achieve a 25% reduction in water use or restrict outdoor irrigation to no more than two days per week. Water suppliers are left to obtain these results through local restrictions on both residential and non-residential users.

Each urban water supplier that provides 20% or more of its total potable water production for commercial agricultural use may subtract that amount of water supplied from its potable water production total.

The Water Board will track water savings on a cumulative basis, meaning that conservation savings will be added together from one month to the next and compared to the amount of water used during the same months in 2013. Water suppliers who do not meet the above-described thresholds on a cumulative basis may be subject to fines up to $500 for each day of non-compliance.

Water suppliers also must now report commercial, industrial and institutional water use statistics to the Water Board. Small water suppliers are only required to provide a one-time report of water use and conservation measures to the Water Board on December 15, 2015.

While the majority of the regulation is directed at local water suppliers, some provisions apply directly to end-users. For example, all newly constructed homes and buildings must comply with requirements established by the California Building Standards Commission for drip or microspray irrigation systems. Commercial, industrial and institutional properties with an independent source of water supply, not served by a water supplier, are required to either limit outdoor irrigation to two days per week or achieve a 25% reduction in water use. Additionally, the use of potable water to irrigate turf on public street medians is prohibited. Regulations regarding rate structures and pricing mechanisms are expected to be taken up in the coming weeks.

How local water suppliers implement these regulations will depend on the needs and usage of their end users. However, all Californians will be expected to do their part in reducing water use during this historic drought.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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