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What the Water Conservation Bills Mean for California’s Water Suppliers: Reporting and Increased Data Collection as a Way of Life

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With the ink dry from Gov. Brown’s signature on AB 1668 (Friedman) and SB 606 (Hertzberg), Californians now have a clearer picture of what it looks like to make water conservation a way of life. This legislation has its roots in Gov. Brown’s Executive Order B‐37‐16 and Cal EPA’s Water Action Plan, both of which called for concrete, permanent measures to realize long-term gains in statewide water conservation.

Despite initial media reports, the legislation:

  • Does not prohibit showering while running a washing machine. Nor does it impose any daily water use restrictions on individual customers.
  • Does set a target for indoor residential use of 55 gallons per capita per day (decreasing to 50 gallons per capita per day in 2030), and requires targets for outdoor use that will be set based on geographic region to account for local climate and land use.

However, the responsibility for achieving these targets rests with California’s water suppliers. Beginning Nov. 1, 2023, water suppliers must calculate an “urban water use objective” for each year, which reflects a quantification of “efficient” water use based on a combination of statewide efficiency standards and local service area characteristics. Actual water use will then be evaluated against this water use objective, with water suppliers facing financial penalties of up to $1,000 per day for failure to meet established targets. Urban water management plans (UWMPs) will also need to include an annual water budget with a quantification of service areas inflows and outflows.

New requirements for urban water suppliers will be implemented according to the following schedule:

  • UWMPs will now be due July 1 in each year ending in -6 and -1, with the next UWMP due July 1, 2021
  • Certain requirements, including information on distribution system loss, must be included in the next UWMP
  • Demand management measures necessary to meet water use objectives must be described in a supplement due Jan. 1, 2024

Although many water suppliers have already set aggressive conservation targets, the conservation bills pose several challenges, including:

  • Water suppliers will need to create a defensible methodology for showing compliance with the new limits as indoor and outdoor water use are not separately metered.
  • Water budgets may require many water suppliers to institute new data collection efforts in order to accurately calculate inflows and outflows, including measurement of: groundwater pumping, vapotranspiration, irrigated acreage, deep percolation
  • The aggressive standards for residential consumption may call into question the projections made in existing UWMPs

The legislation also requires water suppliers to create a drought risk assessment and a description of drought preparedness and management actions as a part of an urban water management plan.

Despite the new reporting requirements, the legislation was welcomed by many water suppliers as a shift away from the percentage-based, across-the-board mandates that characterized earlier conservation regulations. Nonetheless, California water suppliers will have their hands full as they quickly move to implement a permanent shift to incorporate these conservation targets as a way of life.

Jessica DiazAuthor: Jessica Diaz

Bradley HerremaAuthor: Bradley Herrema


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