Fact Sheet on Proposed Permanent Water Conservation Regulations

Overview

Governor Brown’s Executive Order B-37-16 directs the Department of Water Resources (DWR) and the State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) to work together to develop new permanent water use targets that go beyond the current requirement to reduce urban water use by 20 percent by the year 2020. Rather than measuring water savings as a percentage reduction from a chosen baseline, the order states that water use targets should be customized to the unique conditions of each water provider, should generate more statewide water conservation than existing requirements and be based on strengthened standards for indoor water use, outdoor landscape irrigation, commercial and industrial use and water loss through leaks.

DWR and the State Water Board released their proposed water conservation framework “Making Water Conservation a California Way of Life” Public Review Draft on November 30, 2016. As of mid-February 2017, the State has not yet released a final report. Some of the actions described in the proposed framework, such as the water use targets, will require legislation to provide new or expanded state authority. The State believes that other provisions, like specific water waste prohibitions, can be implemented under existing authorities.

Key Issues

The proposed method for setting water use targets falls short of the Executive Order’s stated intent that, “targets shall be customized to the unique conditions of each water agency.” 

  • Water rights are not adequately recognized or protected, and local water availability and reliability are not considered in the proposed method for setting water use targets.
  • The proposed method is not fully customized to local conditions.
  • The proposed method is unnecessarily data-intensive, and implementation costs will be out of portion to the water savings benefits.
  • The State does not define why, where and how water savings will be used or benefit California.
  • The proposal to reevaluate standards every five years is premature and provides too much unilateral authority to State agencies.
  • The proposed method fails to recognize the difference between water conservation and water efficiency.
  • The proposed water conservation framework focuses implementation and enforcement solely on water suppliers and is not inclusive of all of California’s water users and associated entities.

RWA’s Position

Water rights are not adequately recognized or protected, and local water availability and reliability are not considered in the proposed method for setting water use targets. The potential result is “rationing” of water rather than its efficient use, while stranding current investments and stifling the development of new sustainable supply sources and storage. Sacramento-area water suppliers and their customers have invested in both supply and infrastructure reliability. The State has contributed to this reliability in Sacramento and elsewhere through numerous grant programs for billions of dollars over the last two decades. By not allowing local suppliers to use these investments, we are betraying the trust of customers and those who voted for grant programs in good faith.

  • Solution: Language must be added to the plan that clearly affirms the State’s intent to preserve water rights and the authority for suppliers to bank or transfer conserved water. In addition, the methodology should consider both the reliability and relative availability of water supplies at the local level in both target setting and compliance timelines.

 The proposed method for setting water use targets is not fully customized to local conditions. One method with a singular “customizable” component like population in the indoor use calculation does not account for the age of housing stock, use of swamp coolers and other factors. Nor does it acknowledge the difference between consumptive and total indoor use, a critical factor in the Sacramento region. We estimate that more than 40 percent of the water used in the Sacramento region is returned to local waterways to benefit people and the environment downstream, substantially decreasing our net water use.

Similarly, although the outdoor use water use target considers lot size and climate, it fails to take into consideration local factors like the raising of food and livestock in rural areas, the extensive tree canopy of Sacramento and other communities, and the mix of native vegetation and irrigated landscaping present in some areas. These local conditions are integrated into local planning and decision making efforts (e.g. infrastructure investments) by water suppliers and elected officials. The target method undermines those decisions and discredits the effective leadership and planning successfully demonstrated by a majority of the water suppliers statewide in the recent drought.

  • Solution: Include a process for water suppliers to explain local conditions that affect the target setting methodology, thereby adjusting their water use target.

The proposed method for setting water use targets is unnecessarily data-intensive, and implementation costs will be out of proportion to potential water savings. Success of the target method is critically dependent on the ability to accurately calculate parcel-specific landscape areas statewide. Methods for calculating landscape areas at this scale have broadly documented errors and have been implemented locally by very few urban water suppliers, at great expense and for very specific local purposes. Establishing permanent statewide policy on such limited experience takes a gamble with public resources and potentially puts both state and local staff in an uncomfortable position to defend the investment, especially considering the aggressive timeline for implementation outlined in the proposed framework.

  • Solution: The State should adjust the timeline to ensure the landscape area methodology can be tested and refined to ensure it achieves the expected levels of water savings. In addition, a simpler alternative approach, like the percent reduction used in the successful implementation of SBX7-7 (legislative mandate to reduce urban water use by 20 percent by the year 2020), should be included to achieve the same level of savings through local decision making without the vast resources required with the target method.
  • The State should include a simpler alternative approach, like the percent reduction used in the successful implementation of SBX7-7, to achieve the same level of savings through local decision making without the vast resources required with the target method.

 The State does not define why, where and how water savings will be used or benefit California. This failure to set objectives means substantial State and local funds will be expended without ensuring comparable benefits are achieved. Water suppliers are already required to document in their urban water management plans why and when customers must reduce their water use and how those actions will meet local needs.

  • Solution: The State should base water use standards on a clearly identified water supply-related need at the local level.
  • The State should improve and streamline water transfers, including transfers of conserved urban water, between willing buyers and sellers, to meet specific need of water users and the environment.

The proposal to reevaluate standards every five years is premature and provides too much unilateral authority to State agencies. The framework states that water use targets will be reevaluated every five years starting in 2025 and may be revised “downward.” There is a threshold in which water targets go beyond efficiency and eliminating waste to redefining a community’s quality of life. For that reason, we cannot support any policy that allows State agencies carte blanche in determining future water-use budgets, prohibitions or performance measures.

  • Solution: Any future changes to water use targets should be decided through a public and inclusive legislative process to maintain local quality of life values for all of California’s communities.

The proposed method for setting water use targets fails to recognize the difference between water efficiency and water conservation.  Californians conserved vast amounts of water during the drought of 2014-16 to avert potential water supply shortages. In addition, water suppliers and their customers have been reducing per capita water use (improving efficiency) for several decades, and most recently in response to SBX7-7.

  • Solution: Set water use targets based on the amount of water needed to maintain existing land uses, and promote economic vitality, rather than as a means of reducing water use for its own sake.
  • Promote water use reductions through changes in plumbing codes and advances in appliances and technology, as well as cultural changes in land use patterns and customer landscaping choices, not through punitive, enforceable standards on water suppliers and their customers.

The proposed water conservation framework focuses implementation and enforcement solely on water suppliers and is not inclusive of all of California’s water users and associated entities. For example, the target method would task water suppliers with requirements for actions that are outside their authority, such as controlling landscaping choices of California citizens.

  • Solution: For success, we need a shared responsibility among water suppliers, the State and all water use sectors, which starts with identifying authority and targeting the appropriate entities to get the job done.

RWA’s comment letter to the State Water Resources Control Board can be found here.