What’s Behind the Headlines: California’s New Water Use Efficiency Laws

Thursday, Jun 21st, 2018

  Governor Brown recently signed AB 1668 (Friedman) and SB 606 (Hertzberg), two bills based on the Brown Administration’s 2017 “Making Conservation a California Way of Life” framework. These new bills include a number of provisions for agricultural and urban water suppliers that are intended to enhance water use efficiency and water management planning requirements … Continue reading “What’s Behind the Headlines: California’s New Water Use Efficiency Laws”

 

Governor Brown recently signed AB 1668 (Friedman) and SB 606 (Hertzberg), two bills based on the Brown Administration’s 2017 “Making Conservation a California Way of Life” framework. These new bills include a number of provisions for agricultural and urban water suppliers that are intended to enhance water use efficiency and water management planning requirements statewide.

The most significant—and attention-grabbing—provisions of these new bills create a new approach to regulating urban water use. Here are a few headlines from newspapers across the state.

Drought or no drought: Jerry Brown sets permanent water conservation rules for Californians (The Mercury News, 5/31/2018)

Gov. Brown signs new bills limiting water use (Mountain Democrat, 6/4/2018)

No, Californians, you won’t be fined $1,000 if you shower and do laundry the same day (Sacramento Bee, 6/6/2018)

In the Sacramento Valley, water managers are focused on the efficient use of water for multiple benefits and urban communities in the region are on track to meet and exceed existing requirements in state law to save 20% by 2020.

So, what’s in this new legislation? What’s behind the headlines? And what does it all mean for the Sacramento Valley?

What’s in AB 1668 and SB 606?
These bills include four primary elements:

  1. Agricultural Water Management Plans: establishes new planning and submittal requirements for agricultural water management plans.
  2. Urban Water Management Plans: creates enhanced urban water management planning and water shortage contingency planning requirements.
  3. Urban Water Use Objectives: sets forth a new approach to regulating urban water use by requiring the calculation, reporting, and enforcement of “urban water use objectives” for urban retail water suppliers.
  4. Small and Rural Water Supplier Drought Plans: requires state agencies to identify small water suppliers and rural communities that may be at risk of water shortage and develop recommendations for countywide plans to address these risks.

What’s behind the headlines?
Most of the recent media attention surrounding these bills is focused on one of the four elements above—the urban water use objectives.

These bills establish a new approach to regulating water use by providing each urban water supplier with an annual objective for water use in their service area. These bills do not create water budgets for individual water users or customers, but water suppliers who do not achieve their objectives may be ordered to undertake a variety of actions to enhance conservation in their service areas.

The water use objectives are calculated as the sum of the applicable standards for different types of water use, all of which are intended to reflect the efficient use of water in urban environments. Some of these standards are established in the legislation—for example, the bills define a 55 gallon per person daily standard for indoor residential use until 2025.

Other efficiency-based standards for water use will be adopted by the State Water Resources Control Board through regulation. The most significant of these standards will likely be the standard for outdoor residential use, which will be based on factors that include local land use and climate.

One of the more unique aspects of the urban water use objectives is the fact that water supply availability is not relevant to the calculation of the objective. The annual objective applies to the water supplier in all water year types and is not based on water supplies that may be available in any given year.

What does it all mean for the Sacramento Valley?
Signed by Governor Brown on May 31, 2018, the bills will take effect on January 1, 2019. Water managers in the Sacramento Valley are poised to move forward, consistent with the comprehensive efforts underway to advance multi-benefit approaches to water management.

Agricultural water suppliers will be required to comply with the new planning and submittal requirements beginning in 2021, and every five years thereafter. The recommendations for countywide drought and water shortage contingency planning needs for small water suppliers will be proposed by January 1, 2020.

For urban water suppliers, the water use objectives are required to be calculated starting in 2023, with implementation of the enforcement related provisions beginning later that year.

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