On March 19, 2020, California issued Executive Order N-25-20, a statewide shelter in place order in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, significantly altering operations of both state agencies and private businesses. However, California’s water regulators, including the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB), the Regional Water Quality Control Boards, and the Department of Water Resources (DWR), have committed to maintaining critical deadlines, compliance requirements, and agency operations in the interest of public health and safety.
Importantly, the SWRCB’s Division of Water Rights continues to require all surface water users to submit annual reports to meet the April 1, 2020 deadline for reporting 2019 water use. As of the publication of this alert, although the Division of Water Rights has postponed non-essential file review, the Division of Water Rights is maintaining limited hours to view essential records, by appointment only.
Additionally, the SWRCB and the nine Regional Water Quality Control Boards (collectively “Water Boards”) issued a guidance statement providing that in the interest of protecting public health, safety, and the environment, timely compliance with all Water Board orders and requirements is required. This includes compliance with regulations, permits, contractual obligations, primacy delegations, and funding conditions that are in effect.
The Water Boards’ guidance statement also advises regulated entities that cannot timely meet a specific Water Board order or requirement because of current governmental directives or guidelines related to COVID-19, to promptly contact the appropriate Water Board by email, and identify:
- The order, regulation, permit, or requirement that cannot be timely met;
- The inconsistent COVID-19 directive or guideline;
- An explanation of why the order or requirement cannot be met; and
- The actions the entity will take in lieu of complying with the order or requirement.
The guidance statement indicates that Water Board staff will attempt to respond within 48 hours.
Other state water agencies have responded to the COVID-19 emergency by extending or delaying non-essential deadlines. DWR extended public comment periods on Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSPs) from May 15, 2020 to June 3, 2020. Notably, DWR indicated that it will accept annual water reports after the original April 1, 2020 deadline for all basins with adopted GSPs, approved and pending GSP alternatives, and adjudicated basins. DWR also extended the public comment period for the Water Budget Handbook until May 7, 2020, and the Delta Conveyance Project scoping period until April 17, 2020.
Finally, Executive Order N-25-20 includes specific provisions to facilitate meetings of local legislative bodies and state agencies despite physical distancing requirements and the shelter in place mandate. Please check the appropriate agency’s public meeting webpage to ensure you do not miss the opportunity to participate.
California’s water infrastructure remains critical to maintaining the health and safety of the public during the COVID-19 pandemic, and California’s water regulators are dedicated to maintaining the highest level of operational continuity. Stoel Rives’ California water attorneys will continue to monitor all agency notices and guidance statements and to provide additional updates.