Brown sets wa­ter con­ser­va­tion rules

The Mercury News Weekend - - LOCAL NEWS - By Paul Rogers progers@ba­yare­anews­group.com

Al­though he de­clared an end to Cal­i­for­nia’s his­toric five-year drought last year, Gov. Jerry Brown on Thurs­day signed two new laws that will re­quire cities and wa­ter districts across the state to set per­ma­nent wa­ter con­ser­va­tion rules, even in non-drought years.

“In prepa­ra­tion for the next drought and our chang­ing en­vi­ron­ment, we must use our pre­cious re­sources wisely,” Brown said in a state­ment. “We have ef­fi­ciency goals for en­ergy and cars, and now we have them for wa­ter.”

Brown signed two bills, SB 606 by Sen. Robert Hertzberg ( D-Van Nuys) and AB 1668 by Assem­bly­woman Laura Fried­man (D- Glen­dale), that re­quire cities, wa­ter districts and large agri­cul­tural wa­ter districts to set strict an­nual wa­ter bud­gets, po­ten­tially fac­ing fines of $1,000 per day if they don’t meet them, and $10,000 a day dur­ing drought emer­gen­cies.

Un­der the bills, each ur­ban wa­ter provider will be re­quired to come up with a tar­get for wa­ter use by 2022. Fines for agen­cies fail­ing to meet their goals can be­gin in 2027.

The tar­gets must be ap­proved by the State Wa­ter Re­sources Con­trol Board between now and then,

and will vary by city and county.

Stan­dards will be based on a for­mula that is made up of three­main fac­tors: An al­lowance of 55 gal­lons per per­son per day for in­door wa­ter use — drop­ping to 50 gal­lons by 2030; a yet-tobe de­ter­mined amount for res­i­den­tial out­door use that will vary de­pend­ing on re­gional cli­mates; and a stan­dard for wa­ter loss be­cause of leak rates in wa­ter sys­tem pipes.

The new laws make it likely that wa­ter agen­cies will need to of­fer more re­bates for home­own­ers and busi­ness own­ers who re­place lawns with drought­tol­er­ant plants and who pur­chase wa­ter ef­fi­cient ap­pli­ances. The agen­cies could also limit the hours and days of lawn wa­ter­ing, even when droughts are not oc­cur­ring.

The laws are a re­sponse to com­plaints from some wa­ter agen­cies that the manda­tory wa­ter tar­gets the Brown administration put in place dur­ing the drought were too in­flex­i­ble and didn’t take into ac­count lo­cal wa­ter sup­plies, pop­u­la­tion growth and other fac­tors. Those lim­its ranged from an 8 per­cent re­duc­tion in wa­ter use to a 36 per­cent re­duc­tion, based on each community’s per­capita wa­ter use.

The month­s­long de­bate over the new laws split the wa­ter community, en­vi­ron­men­tal groups and busi­ness groups.

Or­ga­ni­za­tions who sup­ported the new laws said it makes sense to re­duce de- mand as the state’s pop­u­la­tion grows, and al­low each lo­cal area the flex­i­bil­ity for de­vis­ing their own plan while Cal­i­for­nia con­tin­ues to de­velop new sup­plies, from re­cy­cled wa­ter to storm wa­ter cap­ture to new reser­voirs.

“They are def­i­nitely a step in the right di­rec­tion,” said Tracy Quinn, wa­ter con­ser­va­tion di­rec­tor for the Nat­u­ral Re­sources De­fense Coun­cil, of the new laws. “The frame­work strikes the right balance between lo­cal con­trol and nec­es­sary state over­sight.”

Quinn said that­most cities and wa­ter districts in Cal­i­for­nia al­ready are close to, or un­der, a stan­dard of 55 gal­lons per per­son per day for in­door use.

Last year, ur­ban Cal­i­for­ni­ans used an av­er­age of 90 gal­lons of wa­ter per per­son per day for in­door and out- door use com­bined, down from 109 gal­lons in 2013, ac­cord­ing to the state wa­ter board. Most com­mu­ni­ties us­ing more were lo­cated in hot places in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia and the Sacra­mento area, while cities with smaller yards and coastal ar­eas with cooler cli­mates used less. In the sum­mer at least half of res­i­den­tial wa­ter use in most com­mu­ni­ties goes to wa­ter­ing lawns and land­scap­ing.

En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists such as Sierra Club Cal­i­for­nia said the rules didn’t go far enough. Of par­tic­u­lar con­cern was a com­pro­mise in­serted in the bill that al­lowed cities and wa­ter districts to get 15 per­cent credit on their wa­ter use to­tals if they pro­duce cer­tain types of re­cy­cled wa­ter.

“All wa­ter should be val­ued,” said Sara Amin­zadeh, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Cal­i­for­nia Coast­keeper Al­liance, which op­posed the bills. “With en­ergy we wouldn’t want to of­fer in­cen­tives for the waste­ful use of so­lar or wind en­ergy. Like­wise, we want to make sure all wa­ter is used ef­fi­ciently.”

Some ma­jor wa­ter agen­cies also op­posed the bills, mainly be­cause they didn’t like the state telling them what to do.

“Ev­ery lo­cal wa­ter agency sup­ports con­ser­va­tion and has a re­spon­si­bil­ity to make sure its wa­ter users use­wa­ter ef­fi­ciently,” said Tim Quinn, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the As­so­ci­a­tion of Cal­i­for­nia Wa­ter Agen­cies, which op­posed the bill. “This was never about whether we should be pur­su­ing con­ser­va­tion. It was about how.”

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