State Water Board Releases Proposed Framework for Extending Emergency Water Conservation Regulations in California

Best Best & Krieger LLP

Public Comments Due Jan. 6

The State Water Resources Control Board released a proposed regulatory framework for extending statewide emergency water conservation mandates through October 2016. The framework could result in water conservation targets being relaxed for some urban water suppliers in hotter regions, as well as in areas with growing populations.

In response to the ongoing drought, the Board adopted an emergency regulation on May 5, designed to achieve a 25 percent statewide reduction in potable urban water use between July 2015 and February 2016. The regulation assigned each urban water supplier a conservation standard ranging from 4 percent to 36 percent.

On Nov.13, Gov. Jerry Brown issued Executive Order B-36-15, which called for an extension of the water use restrictions through Oct. 31. The Board intends to use the framework released Monday to draft a new regulation implementing Brown’s directive. Many water suppliers are finding the current emergency regulation challenging to implement. Based on numerous public comments, Board staff has proposed several refinements in the framework for extending the regulation. Among those potential modifications:

  • A new “climate adjustment,” which could reduce conservation requirements by up to 4 percent for suppliers located in the warmest regions of the state. This adjustment would be based on a measurement of each urban water supplier’s approximate service area evapotranspiration between the months of July and September, compared to the statewide average ET for the same months.
  • A mechanism to adjust conservation standards to account for “water efficient growth” since 2013. This adjustment would be based on a calculation that takes into account new residential connections, new residential landscaped areas, and new commercial, industrial and institutional connections.
  • An adjustment to provide a 4 percent reduction to the conservation standard for urban water suppliers using new drought-resilient water supplies. This would allow suppliers to receive a credit for desalinated seawater or indirect potable reuse of coastal wastewater projects developed since 2013.

Under the Board staff recommendations, the maximum adjustment to a supplier’s conservation standard would be 4 percent. In addition, under the current regulation, water supplied for commercial agricultural use may be excluded from total potable production measurements, provided certain conditions are met. Under the proposed framework, the Board is considering modifying this exclusion so that it would apply only to customers who produce more than $1,000 per year in agricultural sales.

Board staff declined to recommend in the proposed framework several other adjustments and compliance approaches suggested by water suppliers and stakeholders, including the following:

  • Providing additional credit for non-potable recycled water use or for groundwater use and management.
  • An option for multiple suppliers in a single region to jointly comply with their aggregated conservation standards as a single entity.
  • Exempting or relaxing conservation requirements for isolated hydrogeologic regions that are not experiencing drought conditions and do not import or export water.

The framework calls for a continuation of monthly reporting requirements for urban suppliers, conservation and reporting requirements for small water suppliers, and statewide prohibited end-uses of potable water.

The Board is seeking public comment on the proposed regulatory framework. The comment period ends on Jan. 6. The Board estimates a draft regulation will be released for public comment in mid-January, and will be considered by the Board in early February. More information about the framework and how to provide public comments can be found here.

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