Update on Critical Water-Focused Legislative Issues

Permanent Water Conservation
The Regional Water Authority (RWA) has been working for more than a year with a broad coalition of water suppliers, associations and business groups from throughout the state to help fulfill the objectives of Gov. Jerry Brown’s Executive Order B-37-16 for “making water conservation a California way of life.”

RWA was among a select group of stakeholder organizations invited to participate in an Urban Advisory Group to guide the development of the Governor’s water conservation framework. Certain elements of that framework require legislation for its implementation, and RWA worked with Irvine Ranch Water District to co-sponsor legislation—AB 968 (Rubio) and AB 1654 (Rubio)—designed to improve drought preparedness and increase water efficiency while maintaining local control over water management decisions.

During the past several months, those bills and competing legislative proposals—including those put forth by the Administration—were debated, altered and then stripped down to intent language, essentially starting negotiations over again.

Legislative staff members are currently developing language for a new proposal 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 current proposal:

  • Delegates the Legislature’s authority over long-term water use standards and targets to State administrative agencies.
  • Ignores local water providers’ authorities and responsibilities to work with customers to encourage efficiency, and grants state agencies with inappropriate power to issue cease-and-desist orders to water providers not meeting state mandates.
  • Neglects to protect water rights or the ability to access available water to meet customer needs.
  • Does not adequately protect or create incentives for further developing recycled water and other reliable supplies.

Additional detail about our concerns can be found here.

During this legislative recess and in the coming weeks, RWA will continue to work with our coalition partners to advocate for an approach to long-term water use efficiency that protects our customers and the communities we serve.

Public Goods Charge on Water
RWA is continuing to monitor SB 623 (Monning), legislation aimed at funding safe drinking water solutions for disadvantaged communities (DACs), which is expected to be amended soon to include a tax on residential water bills.

The bill cleared the Assembly Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Committee on July 11. It is very likely that the bill’s author, Sen. William Monning (D-Carmel), will insert language that imposes a tax on water as one of two funding sources for the legislation. The other funding source is expected to be an agriculture-related fee or tax, such as a nitrogen tax and a dairy fee. These taxes and fees would be allocated to the State Water Board to assist with drinking water safety issues impacting some small water systems and individual domestic well users.

While RWA agrees there is a clear need for sensible, long-term funding solutions to assist DACs that do not have safe drinking water, a tax on every Californian’s water bill is not the solution and will further hamper local efforts to maintain safe and reliable water infrastructure at a reasonable price for all customers, including those low-income customers within our own water service areas.

RWA has adopted policy principles against a tax on water and will work to oppose the measure if one is added to the bill.