Regulations Will Target Long-Term Water Use Statewide

March 06, 2019

State officials are developing new water-use regulations for retail water agencies in response to legislation signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in May 2018. Senate Bill 606 and Assembly Bill 1668 were intended to help California better prepare for and respond to droughts and climate change by directing state agencies to adopt new water efficiency rules.

Timeline for Long-Term Water-Use Regulations

2021: California Department of Water Resources recommends standards, variances and performance measures.

2022: State Water Resources Control Board adopts standards and performance measures.

2023: Retail water agencies calculate and report water-use objectives.

2027: Water suppliers are subject to fines if they can’t meet water-use objectives and/or performance measures.

The laws will require the establishment of long-term water-use objectives for retail water agencies, along with water-saving performance measures for businesses.

Based on decades of successful water-use efficiency efforts, the Water Authority and its member agencies are working with state officials to ensure the implementation of regulations that are both equitable and reasonably reflect local conditions.

Media reports have created confusion about the new regulations. One particularly prominent report said there was a statewide mandate not to take a shower and do laundry on the same day. It also said there was a statewide mandate that would limit each person to a certain amount of water indoors. Neither of those assertions accurately reflect the intent of the law.

The primary regulatory mechanism in the new law is setting water-use objectives for retail water agencies – not individuals or businesses. Retail agencies will have discretion over how to meet the objectives, and they will bear the burden if they don’t meet the state targets. Compliance strategies are likely to vary from place to place, and it’s too soon to say how they will be implemented or the impact they will have on ratepayers.

Under the new law, water agencies must calculate water-use objectives by November 2023, and every year thereafter. The state’s calculation for evaluating water-use efficiency by agencies will be very complex. In its simplest form, it will compare actual water use by agency to the state’s objective for each agency to assess whether agencies are performing efficiently.

The calculation of water agency efficiency objectives will include:

  • Indoor and outdoor residential water use
  • Commercial, industrial, and institutional landscape irrigation
  • Water loss (system leakage)
  • Unique local uses (i.e. livestock, swamp coolers, etc.)
  • Potable reuse credit

The regulatory development process is under way, and there are numerous questions about exactly how the rules will work. Many of the answers probably won’t be finalized for months.

For commercial, industrial and institutional (CII) water users, the state is requiring best management practices such as water audits and dedicated irrigation meters when financially feasible. As with the objectives for water agencies, CII water users will have years to implement best management practices, in coordination with their local water agency.

For more information about state water-use objectives, go to the State Water Resources Control Board website.