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New Water Laws Ahead. And Still Much More To Do

Several new California laws took effect this month that will help California conserve its water supplies. This is great progress, but much more needs doing in the year ahead to ensure further savings and make better use of key water resources we’ve neglected for too long.

Written by Published on Read time Approx. 3 minutes
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This column is published in collaboration with Connect the Drops , a partnership between business and environmental groups to promote conservation and reuse of California water supplies.

Four years of drought have brought opportunity, and enabled California to pass long-awaited policy and ballot measures to ensure a sustainable water supply – most notably the historic groundwater law and $7.5 billion water bond in 2014.

In 2015, we continued to make steady progress at remaking California’s water future. Californians have reduced urban water use by 27.1 percent in the five months since emergency conservation regulations took effect in June.

We also saw some important bills signed into law, such as SB 555, which addresses the significant volumes of water currently wasted through leaking water agency infrastructure. Signed in June, SB 88 has been in the spotlight lately, as the State Water Resources Control Board develops regulations that require the measuring and reporting of water diversions. This information will be critical to make smarter and more informed decisions about our state’s water supply.

But we’re far from done. We need to keep plugging away and not let a season of heavy precipitation slow our momentum.

There is much more we can and should do to encourage the most efficient use of the water we already have. A number of policy proposals have been kicking around in Sacramento for years, and some new ideas are starting to take shape. For 2016, we need to get these ideas to the finish-line:

  • Water from our sinks and laundry shouldn’t go to waste. Introduced last year, AB 1463 (Gatto) would require the State Water Resources Control Board to establish water-quality standards for onsite water recycling systems. AB 1463 will help expand the use of on-site recycling systems, which will reduce demand for potable water while ensuring public health is maintained.
  • Everyone should know their water footprint. Requiring sub-metering of dwelling units for water service would encourage conservation in multifamily residential rental buildings, as residents would understand and be responsible for their own water footprint. Senator Lois Wolk has introduced this legislation for several years (most recently SB 7) but it has yet to pass.
  • Let’s face it, we need more money. A recent Public Policy Institute of California report found there is a $2bn to $3bn annual funding gap in five key water management areas, including storm water capture and integrated water management. A voter initiative passed in 1996 – Proposition 218 – limits the ability of local water agencies to raise revenues to pay for local needs, such as critical stormwater infrastructure. Under some interpretations, Prop. 218 also can limit efforts to conserve water through tiered pricing structures. We need to address this shortcoming in the California Constitution. A ballot measure recently submitted to the state Attorney General for consideration on the November 2016 ballot – The California Water Conservation, Flood Control and Stormwater Management Act of 2016 – would address these issues.
  • Our precious water shouldn’t be funneled to the ocean . Treated wastewater should be put to beneficial use. The Hyperion Treatment Plant in Los Angeles discharges more than 250 million gallons of wastewater each day into the Pacific Ocean. Instead, this water could be treated and reused. A proposal by Senator Hertzberg, SB 163, would require, by 2026, all wastewater treatment facilities discharging through an ocean outfall to achieve at least 50 percent reuse of the facility’s actual annual flow for beneficial purposes. This could add up to a lot of water.
  • We’ve proven we can conserve. Let’s keep it up . The state water board is currently deciding what’s next for mandatory water conservation targets in 2016. Staff recently released a proposal for version 2 of the emergency regulations. We should continue water conservation in a smart way, and there’s still room to improve. To that end, we need to think about what’s next for the 20×2020 Water Conservation Plan, which in 2010 called for a 20 percent per capita reduction in urban water demand by 2020. We can do more.

Let’s get these proposals hashed out once and for all and keep up the momentum we’ve had in Sacramento for the last few years.

Moreover, a recent poll from the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) found that “Californians are most likely to name water and drought (27%) as the most important issue facing the state, followed closely by jobs and the economy (24%).”

Stakeholders should join together on these proposals to ensure we are on track for a sustainable water future in California. Ceres’ Connect the Drop’s campaign just got a shot in the arm with five new companies joining ( Clif Bar, Genentech, Fetzer Vineyards, Qualcomm Incorporated and VMware ) and we’ll be hitting Sacramento in the spring, advocating for policies that ensure California values every drop.

Top image: The Los Angeles Hyperion Treatment Plant, located along the Pacific Ocean shore in Playa Del Rey, discharges 250 million gallons of treated wastewater into the ocean daily. Proposed legislation would require at least half of this to be put to beneficial reuse by 2026. (City of Los Angeles)

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