Legislative staff members are currently developing language for a new proposal for permanent water conservation legislation during the legislative recess. This new proposal includes several major flaws that are strongly opposed by local water providers as having severe negative implications on water rates, community green spaces, local business and urban forests. In particular, the following areas of fundamental and long-standing concern are not addressed by the proposal:
The proposal delegates the Legislature’s authority over long-term water use efficiency standards and targets to State agencies. Under the Proposal, the State Water Resources Control Board, in collaboration with the Department of Water Resources, would be authorized to adopt water use efficiency standards, including standards for interior residential use, exterior residential use, leaks, CII use, and “other water uses” without legislative review or approval. We strongly believe that state agencies should not be granted the authority to establish water use efficiency standards and targets. Only the Legislature can balance California’s many competing policy goals and priorities, and represent all Californians in determining how water should be used within our urban communities.
The proposal’s enforcement provisions do not account for urban retail water suppliers’ authorities and responsibilities relative to their customers. State agencies should not have the power to impose cease-and-desist orders related to the standards against water suppliers. Under the proposal, the SWRCB would be granted the authority to issue an “order to [an] urban water supplier to cease and desist from violating the requirements to develop and meet the water supply requirements.” As stewards of their communities’ water resources, water suppliers have taken and will continue to take the appropriate actions to encourage greater water use efficiency within their service areas. Granting cease-and-desist powers to state agencies in this context is inappropriate. Moreover, water suppliers cannot directly control their customers’ water use. Legislation in this area should instead provide appropriate, progressive enforcement authorities that account for water suppliers’ authorities and responsibilities relative to their customers.
The proposal does not protect water rights. Under the proposal, “Failure of an urban water supplier to meet a water use target by 2026… may be used as evidence in a proceeding alleging unreasonable use.” Legislation in this area should instead expressly protect water rights and seek to enhance the availability of saved water to be put to beneficial use.
The proposal does not adequately protect or create incentives for the further development of potable reuse and recycled water. Under the Proposal, limited provisions have been made to ensure that recycled water can be applied at an appropriate rate. Nothing in the proposal would provide incentives for the development of new potable reuse and recycled water. Legislation in this area needs to look to the future needs of California’s communities. The legislation should include additional provisions aimed at enhancing the development of new potable reuse and recycled water, including a credit for the volume of its recycled water supply that is served for potable uses up to the volume needed, on an acre-foot basis, to meet its water efficiency target.
The proposal also introduces new concepts not previously considered in this year’s legislative discussion that are potentially problematic, including the following:
- Authority for the SWRCB to require compliance with water use targets by urban wholesale water suppliers and distributors of recycled water, in addition to urban retail water suppliers.
- Authority for the SWRCB to adopt standards for system leaks, including raw, potable, and recycled water system leaks.
- Authority for the SWRCB to impose civil liability and/or issue cease-and-desist orders for failure to make a “good faith effort” to comply with reporting and planning requirements.