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Environmental & Natural Resources Legal Alert
April 20, 2015              

Authored by Kathryn Horning while an attorney at Allen Matkins, currently serving as Director - Corporate Counsel/Legal Operations Group at California American Water

State Water Board Releases Proposed Emergency Regulations Imposing Strict Reductions in Water Use

In the wake of Governor Jerry Brown's April 1, 2015 Executive Order to reduce potable water use by 25% from 2013 levels, on April 18, 2015, the State Water Resources Control Board released its proposed text of emergency regulations to implement mandatory water conservation. The Board had released a framework for the proposed regulations on April 7, 2015, apportioning cutbacks to the state's urban water suppliers in four tiers varying from 10% to 35% based on the water supplier's September 2014 residential per capita water use. But after receiving over 250 letters objecting to or commenting on aspects of the proposal, the Board has revised its proposal, assigning water suppliers to one of nine tiers of reduction standards ranging from 4% to 36%, and providing some relief for water suppliers who have developed alternate local water supplies and for those serving commercial agriculture.

The proposed regulations, if adopted, impose the following restrictions.

Urban Water Suppliers Must Reduce Potable Water Use By Specified Percentages Beginning June 1, 2015

The Board has assigned the state's urban water suppliers to one of nine conservation tiers, requiring cutbacks ranging from 4% to 37%. The number of tiers has been increased to lessen the disparity between agencies with similar levels of water conservation, and to better reflect past conservation efforts. The Board's spreadsheet listing each of the urban water suppliers and their assigned tiers is available here.

Water suppliers must decide how to meet their conservation standard through reductions from both residential and non-residential users, but are required to submit monthly monitoring reports detailing potable water use, population served, percentage of water used for residential purposes, information on water conservation compliance and enforcement efforts, number of days outdoor irrigation is allowed, and monthly use by commercial, industrial and institutional sectors.

The Board also added provisions to address agricultural use and past development of alternate supplies: 

  • Urban water suppliers who deliver more than 20% of their total water production to commercial agriculture may be allowed to subtract the amount supplied for commercial agriculture from water production totals. 
  • Water suppliers who have developed local supply sources may be able to request a reduction in conservation standards of 4% per month, but the supply sources cannot include groundwater or water imported from outside the hydrogeologic region.

Restrictions on Commercial, Industrial and Institutional Users

Commercial, industrial and institutional properties not served by an urban water supplier must either limit irrigation of ornamental landscapes or turf with potable water to no more than two days per week, or reduce potable water usage by 25%. These water users are not required to submit reports but must be prepared to demonstrate compliance if requested to do so by the Board.

Restrictions Imposed Directly on End Users

Effective immediately upon approval of the new regulations, irrigation with potable water is prohibited in two situations: 

  • Irrigating ornamental turf in public street medians with potable water is prohibited. 
  • Irrigating outside newly constructed homes and buildings with potable water is prohibited unless the water is delivered by drip or microspray systems.

The proposed regulations allow the Board to issue conservation orders requiring additional specific actions by a supplier who is not meeting its conservation standard. Additionally, the Board may issue informational orders requiring water suppliers, or commercial, industrial and institutional properties not served by a water supplier, to submit additional information beyond what is required by regulation. The Board will begin assessing compliance with mandated cutbacks with the submittal of each water supplier's June monthly report on July 15, 2015.

Currently, the Board is seeking informal comments on the proposed regulations, and will issue a Notice of Proposed Emergency Rulemaking with any revisions to the regulatory language on April 28, 2015, for public comment and consideration by the Board at its May 5-6, 2015, meeting. If you have any questions or are concerned about how these regulations may impact your business, please don't hesitate to contact us.

Read the proposed emergency regulations