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Executive Summary for December 21st

For an overview of the latest news on the California drought, we’ve organized the most recent developments in a curated summary, including the most important stories, analysis and data. Our goal is to keep you informed of the day’s most significant events in the field.

Published on Dec. 21, 2015 Read time Approx. 4 minutes

Water Conservation Revisions Expected This Week

The State Water Resources Control Board is expected this week to release a draft of its plan to revise water conservation requirements imposed on urban water agencies.

The move comes as a result of Gov. Jerry Brown’s decision in November to officially extend the California drought emergency for another year. His executive order directed the water board to also extend its water conservation requirements, and consider revisions.

The governor and the water board have had an earful from water agencies that don’t like the conservation rules, which have been in place over the past year. Many feel they are inappropriately uniform and do not account for unique circumstances at each agency, such as their investments to become more independent from the statewide water delivery network.

“It has been difficult to tell our ratepayers their investments in local supply projects have not resulted in providing the buffer against drought as intended,” Halla Razak, the city of San Diego’s public utilities director, wrote to state regulators this month, according to the Associated Press.

Some environmental groups oppose giving local governments credit for new supplies, saying it might discourage conservation.

Some of the loudest objections are coming from water agencies that failed to meet the conservation targets currently in place. These includes a few agencies that have actually been fined by the state for failing to meet those targets, such as the Coachella Valley Water District, which serves part of the Palm Springs community. It wants the state board to consider the desert region’s hot climate, large homes and seasonal “snowbird” population.

The desert district has, for many years, seen its customers consume far more water than the state per-capita average. Even so, district general manager Jim Barrett points out that over the past 10 years, his customers have reduced water consumption by about 39 percent, even as the district’s customer base has grown by about 9,250 new water connections.

Others complain the conservation requirements have caused huge financial pain. The Desert Water Agency, for instance, is facing an $8.2 million revenue shortfall – a 29 percent reduction – caused by reduced water sales.

“A one-size-fits-all approach is not the best way to regulate water consumption in a state as economically and geographically diverse as California,” Desert Water Agency general manager David Luker wrote in a letter to the state board, the Desert Sun newspaper reports.

The state board will vote on any modifications to the conservation rules in January, and they would be imposed for a year starting in February.

New Water Laws: An Overview

It’s just about the end of the year, and that means it’s time for an annual ritual in California: making sense of all the new laws that take effect on January 1.

Due to the ongoing drought, an unusual number of new laws deal with water issues. So, thanks in part to the folks at the BB&K law firm, which specializes in water issues, here’s a quick look at some of the new water laws that take effect in California on the first day of the year:

Assembly Bill 1 – Prohibits a city or county from imposing a fine for failure to water a lawn, or having a brown lawn, during a period for which the governor has issued a proclamation of a state of emergency based on drought conditions.

Assembly Bill 243 – Requires the Department of Food and Agriculture, Department of Pesticide Regulation, State Department of Public Health, Department of Fish and Wildlife, and State Water Resources Control Board to promulgate regulations relating to medical marijuana and its cultivation. Also requires various agencies to mitigate the impact of marijuana cultivation on the environment.

Assembly Bill 401 – Requires the State Water Resources Control Board, no later than January 1, 2018, to develop a plan for a Low-Income Water Rate Assistance Program. The bill permits the board to recommend other cost-effective methods of offering assistance to low-income water customers.

Assembly Bill 1077 – Prohibits a mutual water company from meeting solely in an executive session without holding a meeting. The bill requires notice of a meeting to be given to an eligible person at least four days prior to the meeting. Also requires a board of directors of a mutual water company to allow an eligible person to personally attend a meeting of the board, if the person gave the board 24 hours’ advance notice of intent to attend the meeting.

Assembly Bill 1164 – Prohibits a city from enacting or enforcing any ordinance or regulation that prohibits the installation of drought-tolerant landscaping, synthetic grass or artificial turf on residential property, as specified.

Senate Bill 88 – Authorizes the State Water Resources Control Board to order consolidation of water agencies when one water agency consistently fails to provide an adequate supply of safe drinking water. Also authorizes the board to extend service to an area that does not have access to an adequate supply of safe drinking water.

Senate Bill 555 – Requires each urban water supplier, on or before October 1, 2017, and on or before October 1 of each year thereafter, to submit a water loss audit report for the previous year to the Department of Water Resources on or before January 1, 2017, and updated as provided. DWR must post all water loss audit reports on its website in a manner that allows for comparisons across water suppliers and to make these reports available for public viewing.

Senate Bill 664 – Requires an urban water supplier to prepare, beginning January 1, 2020, a seismic risk assessment and mitigation plan to assess the vulnerability of its facilities and a plan to mitigate those vulnerabilities.

Top image: An aerial view of Folsom Dam in the Sacramento area. The State Water Resources Control Board this week is expected to propose new urban water conservation rules to help stretch the state’s water supplies in the event of a fifth straight drought year. (U.S. Bureau of Reclamation)

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