State Water Board Adopts 2016 Emergency Conservation Regulation

The State Water Resources Control Board voted late Tuesday to adopt an emergency conservation regulation that extends mandatory urban conservation through October.

Board members said they would revisit the regulation in the spring when more complete information is available about the water year.

State Water Board Chair Felicia Marcus acknowledged the regulation is "a blunt instrument," but said it should be viewed as an interim step until the water supply outlook becomes more clear in April.

"The context of this is confusing," Marcus said before the board took action. "We are only halfway through the precipitation season. I see a lot of passion. We want to show we've heard people... but we just don't know."

She noted that regional differences are a factor, and that other adjustments may be needed after April. But now is not the time, she said, for a major overhaul of the regulation that has been in place in June 2015. "I'm not interested in rewriting the whole thing a big way."

The board vote came after several hours of testimony in which local water agency representatives from throughout the state called for modifications to recognize local drought-resilient supplies, address equity issues and reflect on-the-ground conditions in different parts of the state.

Several ACWA members requested adjustments to provide credit for agencies that have invested in local resilient supplies through projects such as water recycling, local and regional water storage and desalination of brackish groundwater and ocean water.

Others called for the State Water Board to recognize that different parts of the state are experiencing different hydrologic conditions, and suggested that the regulation allow for modifications by region if rain and snowfall warrant in the coming weeks.

ACWA Executive Director Timothy Quinn noted that local water agencies have invested spent close to $20 billion to develop resilient supplies. He stressed that local water supply tools have a legitimate role to play in the state’s drought response in 2016.

“Essentially we are asking you to broaden your measure of success,” Quinn told State Water Board members. Success in managing through the drought should not be measured solely by reductions in water use, he said. It should also include the existence of local drought-resilient supplies that are central to the state’s long-term water policy.

Maureen Stapleton, general manager of the San Diego County Water Authority, said the San Diego region has invested billions of dollars in an “unprecedented diversification of our water supply portfolio."

She noted that San Diego County uses less water today than it did in 1990, despite adding 800,000 people. She urged the State Water Board to allow agencies to "work both sides of the coin -- water use efficiency and conservation on one side, and robust supplies on the other."

Prior to the public comment, State Water Board staff presented the proposed regulation and additional changes made since the draft was released on Jan. 15.

As initially proposed, the draft regulation would allow urban water suppliers to apply for an adjustment of no more than 8% to their individual state-imposed conservation target. The climate adjustment, where applicable, could reduce a supplier’s target by up to 4% for suppliers located in warmer regions of the state.

The growth adjustment, as proposed, would provide a mechanism to account for water-efficient growth since 2013. To qualify for the adjustment, suppliers would have to provide specific data to the State Water Board by March 15.

The new local drought-resilient supply credit, as initially proposed, would allow urban water suppliers to apply for a 4% to 8% reduction to their target if they obtain at least 4% of their total potable water production from a qualifying local drought-resilient water supply developed since 2013. In order to qualify for the credit, water suppliers would have to submit required certification to the State Water Board by March 15.

The regulation and related materials are available at http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/water_issues/programs/conservation_portal/emergency_regulation.shtml.

The regulation will now be submitted to the Office of Administrative Law, which will review and approve or deny the regulation. If approved by the Office of Administrative Law, the regulation will take effect immediately and remain in effect for 270 days from the approval date.