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By Tina Fisher Cunningham
Fisher Forde Media 

California state water plan: Stop using it

The Forde Files No. 172


June 23, 2018

Tina Fisher Cunningham

Two new laws lay out comprehensive, permanent water restrictionsOn May 15, 2018, California Governor Jerry Brown signed two water conservation bills into law, Assembly Bill 1668 and Senate Bill 606. The twin bills, which are lengthy amendments to the state Water Code, limit the amount of water that residents will be allowed to use.

Under the legislation -- unless state agencies decide to change it -- each person in a residence will be allowed to use 55 gallons of water a day until Jan. 1, 2025, when the allotment will be reduced to 52.5 gallons. The limit of 52.5 gallons will be in effect for five years until Jan. 1, 2030, when each resident will be allowed to use 50 gallons a day.

Fifty gallons is approximately one bathtub full of water.

TEXT AB 1668: The bill, until January 1, 2025, would establish 55 gallons per capita daily as the standard for indoor residential water use, beginning [sic] January 1, 2025, would establish the greater of 52.5 gallons per capita daily or a standard recommended by the department and the board as the standard for indoor residential water use, and beginning January 1, 2030, would establish the greater of 50 gallons per capita daily or a standard recommended by the department and the board as the standard for indoor residential water use. The bill would impose civil liability for a violation of an order or regulation issued pursuant to these provisions, as specified.

The legislation calls for numerous studies to determine how this per capita reduction will be accomplished. Guidelines from the Department of Water Resources and the State Water Resources Control Board are due by Oct. 1, 2021.

Punishment for using too much

While the legislation lacks specifics on how the water reduction policy will be carried out, it spells out the penalties for non-compliance. Residents will face misdemeanor charges for exceeding the water limit, along with fines and jail time.

TEXT SB 606: 377 (a) From and after the publication or posting of any ordinance or resolution pursuant to Section 376, a violation of a requirement of a water conservation program adopted pursuant to Section 376 is a misdemeanor. A person convicted under this subdivision shall be punished by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than 30 days, or by a fine not exceeding one thousand ($1,000), or by both.

TEXT Senate Third Reading analysis, SB 606 ,: [Standards are to include] i) establishing liability of $1,000 per day for violation of orders or regulations on the long-term standards after November 1, 2027. Increases the liability to $10,000 if there is a drought emergency declared by the Governor or during a critically dry year that is preceded by two or more below average rainfall years.

Water suppliers like water districts and community services districts face additional forms of punishment.

TEXT SB 606, Sec. 46, 10656: An urban water supplier is not eligible for a water grant or loan awarded or administered by the state unless the urban water supplier complies with this part [of the bill].

Inside and outside the house

Planners need be able to measure how much water is being used inside the house and how much water is being used outside the house before they can impose the restriction standards.

"Currently we as water purveyors have not received any directions or guidance from the State Water Resources Control Board or Department of Water Resources on what the expected implementation plan will be," City of Tehachapi Utilities Manager Tyler Napier said. "There are a number of details that have to be worked out prior to the 2022 legislation going into effect."

One of those details is the water meter problem. Napier explains:

"All single family residential customers within the City of Tehachapi have one water meter. This meter is designed to provide a total water consumption for domestic use (bathing, laundry, drinking, toilets, sinks, etc.) as well as outdoor consumption (irrigation, hose bibs, pools, etc.). With that it will be very cumbersome to determine what the actual 'indoor' usage is. It is yet to be determined what population numbers and calculations we will be required to use to calculate each home and what their 'indoor' consumption is."

The city and other entities – water districts, community services districts – await instructions from the state.

The two bills act together in amending the Water Code; each required the passage of the other to become law. The Senate and the Assembly bills, in addition to the residential restrictions, cover a wide range of mandates for commercial, institutional and industrial water users, drought, groundwater, emergency and management plans.

"AB 1668 requires the State Water Resources Control Board and the California Department of Water Resources to adopt water efficiency regulations, outlines requirements for water suppliers and specifies penalties for violations," Napier said. "SB 606 contains distinct provisions on water shortage planning and water loss reporting for urban wholesale water suppliers. Until this occurs, there is no specific guidance for us as water purveyors. We are forced to sit back and wait to see what the requirements will be. We anticipate a comment period with the state and we plan to be actively involved in that process."

Tehachapi saves

Residents of the City of Tehachapi proved to be great water savers when asked to reduce use during the recent four-year drought.

"We as a city are very much in favor of water conservation," Napier said. "That is also reflected by our customers. In comparing the total water consumption in 2013 compared to 2017, the customers of the City of Tehachapi dropped their water usage by 24 percent, which equals 461 acre feet of water (150,262,234.00 gallons).

"We are very proud of our customers. They have done a fantastic job and are very aware that the water in the Tehachapi Valley is a precious resource and should be treated as such. A big thank you to everyone in Tehachapi for being water wise."

Water board neutral

Tom Neisler, general manager of the Tehachapi-Cummings County Water District that wholesales water from the State Water Project to agriculture and industrial customers in the Tehachapi valleys, said the district board did not take a position on the bills.

"The Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA) members took positions on both sides of the issue, so ACWA did not request the governor's veto."

Neisler, however, expressed some reservations.

"While we practice and support water conservation," Neisler said, "it is difficult to support mandates that set limits without exceptions or consideration of unique circumstances. These problems became evident during the mandatory 'one size fits all' drought restrictions enacted by the governor in 2015. These regulations mandated 25 percent conservation. Communities such as ours that practice excellent, continuing conservation are penalized by these mandates. Tehachapi area purveyors reduced water use by approximately 30 percent during the recent drought. None of the [water] banking and recharge efforts that we practice were considered in the mandated reductions.

"We fear the same inflexible approach will be taken to the reductions required in this new legislation."

The state is taking public comments.

There is one interesting tag at the end of AB 1668: "For the purposes of this section [19], hauled water is not considered as a source of water."


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