SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — Several speakers pleaded with the State Water Resources Control Board on Wednesday to rethink proposed regulations intended to reduce Californians’ water use in the face of climate change.
“Making Conservation a California Way of Life” is a series of proposed regulations that stems from two laws passed in 2018. Those laws require the state water board to implement efficiency standards and performance levels for local agencies’ water use. They would affect over 400 agencies across the state, public and private, that deliver water to 95% of state residents.
The plan has four main goals: use water more wisely, end water waste, improve local drought defenses, and improve efficiency and drought planning for agricultural water use. Annual reporting requirements are currently part of the proposal.
Those reporting requirements drew the ire of a handful of speakers at Wednesday’s state water board meeting.
Sandra Rose, president of the Monte Vista Water District, said her staff is committed to conservation. However, she has concerns over the amount of reporting needed under the proposed regulations. She said it would add to her district’s expenses.
“The reporting requirements of the regulations are ridiculous,” Rose said.
Edward Jackson — president of Liberty Utilities, California, and the current president of the California Water Association — said the reporting requirements won’t help customers, who will feel the brunt in increased costs with disadvantaged communities hurt the most.
The proposed regulations, tentatively set for a summer 2024 adoption and October 2024 implementation, would impact what the state water board calls Urban Retail Water Suppliers, not homes or businesses.
The reduction goals would be individualized for each agency. Collectively, they’re expected to drop urban water use by over 400,000 acre-feet and help the state deal with changing water supply issues due to climate change.
An acre-foot is a common measurement used by water agencies. One acre-foot is the amount of water on an acre if it were filled with a foot of water, or about 325,900 gallons.
Water agencies could face fines for violations. However, current proposals call for no fines before Nov. 1, 2027. Some agencies already are hitting their goals.
“Once variances, special landscape areas, provisions, and other regulatory tools are applied, it’s likely the estimated savings/required reductions will decrease considerably,” said Charlotte Ely, climate and strategy advisor with the Office of Research and Planning, in an email.
One proposed fine is targeted at agricultural water suppliers that fail to submit their Agricultural Water Management Plan. The state Department of Water Resources would work with a qualified person or group to prepare that plan for the water supplier, and the supplier would pay for it. If the supplier failed to provide the needed data, it could face a $1,000 a day fine, capped at $25,000, until it provides the data.
Other fine structures for different violations exist, though Ely said she had nothing specific to add at this time.
The state water board’s enforcement policy is discretionary, and it works with agencies before issuing fines, Ely said.
The reductions in water use span a range of categories, including indoor and outdoor residential water use and commercial, industrial and institutional landscapes with dedicated irrigation meters. However, variances are included in the proposal, as are alternative ways to compliance.
Water agencies have several methods to meet their goals, including rate reform, leak detection, incentives to plant climate-ready landscapes, and rebates for the replacement of inefficient appliances.
Several representatives of water agencies and industries spoke at Wednesday’s meeting, detailing steps they’ve already taken and offering recommendations in some cases.
Claire Nordlie, water use efficiency coordinator with Santa Rosa, said her city has invested over $30 million over the year to improve efficiency. One successful program, Cash for Grass, provides rebates to people who remove their lawns.
Jennifer Cusack, director of public and government affairs with the Hi-Desert Water District in Yucca Valley, said her district has a tiered water rate.
“We did have a lot of voluntary reduction in use because of that,” Cusack said.
Replacing toilets with more efficient models has also helped.
“Our water use has dropped and it’s expected to stay pretty level,” she added.
Cusack asked that the state water board simplify the proposed variance process, adding that money spent complying with a mandate could instead be spent on water-saving efforts.
Shelly Thomsen, director of public and legislative affairs with the South Tahoe Public Utility District, recommended a streamlined method for the required annual reporting. Her district has much of that information in other reports, and she asked for a method to pull that existing data instead of creating a new report.
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