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State Water Board Extends Water Conservation Regulations and Makes Minor Amendments

The State Water Resources Control Board voted on February 8 to extend its existing water conservation regulations for an additional 270 days, until the Governor lifts the drought emergency proclamation or the State Water Board determines that the emergency regulations should be modified or rescinded.  Many public commenters urged the Board to allow the regulations to expire on February 28, 2017, given the improved water supply conditions throughout the state and the need to maintain trust and support among the public.  Despite the massive amounts of rain this winter, an above-average snowpack, and nearly overflowing reservoirs, the Board noted that certain areas of California are still suffering significant drought impacts, including the depletion of groundwater storage, and that weather patterns are too unpredictable to assume that precipitation will continue for the remainder of the rainy season.  In May 2017, the Board will reconsider whether to repeal the regulations following a more thorough review of the state’s hydrologic water conditions.

The extended regulations keep in place prohibitions against wasteful potable water practices, such as watering lawns within 48 hours after measurable rainfall, overwatering outdoor landscapes in a manner that causes runoff, or serving drinking water other than upon request in eating and drinking establishments.  Homeowners’ associations and other similar entities are also still barred from taking action or imposing a monetary penalty against property owners for conserving water, such as letting lawns go brown.  One of the more notable amendments to the newly extended regulations, however, extends this prohibition to cities and counties.

With regard to urban water suppliers, the extended regulations maintain requirements to submit monthly reports on potable water production and usage, and to comply with either a self-certified individual water conservation standard or a state-imposed conservation mandate, depending on whether the urban water supplier has enough water reserves to withstand three additional dry years.  Under the previous iteration of the regulations adopted in May 2016, the State Water Board recognized that many urban water suppliers met or exceeded state conservation mandates and should be able to set their own conservation standards going forward.  Urban water suppliers were therefore allowed to identify an individual water conservation standard that will guide water conservation requirements for their service area, provided they self-certify that there would be no water supply shortfall assuming three additional dry years (also referred to as the “stress test” approach).  Under the newly extended regulations, urban water suppliers who either did not take or pass the “stress test” now have another opportunity to update their analysis and submit their self-certifications by March 15, 2017.  Importantly, whether urban water suppliers must adhere to an individual water conservation standard or the state-imposed conservation mandate, the extended regulations still allow suppliers to customize water conservation requirements to their own water supply conditions.

A copy of the extended regulations is available here.