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Gov. Brown signs legislation for permanent water conservation regulations, regardless of drought conditions

Although Governor Jerry Brown declared an end to California’s historic 5-year drought last year, on May 31, 2018, he signed legislation requiring cities, water districts and large agricultural water districts to set strict annual water budgets, potentially facing fines of $1,000 per day if they don’t meet them, and $10,000 a day during drought emergencies.

The two related bills, sponsored by southern California legislators are SB 606 by Sen. Robert Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) and AB 1668 by Assemblywoman Laura Friedman (D-Glendale), will establish water use targets for all urban water providers regardless of hydrologic year type, by 2022. Fines for agencies failing to meet their goals can begin in 2027! “In preparation for the next drought and our changing environment, we must use our precious resources wisely,” Brown said in a statement. “We have efficiency goals for energy and cars – and now we have them for water.”

The targets must be approved by the State Water Resources Control Board between now and then, and will vary by city and county. Standards will be based on a formula that is made up of three main factors: an allowance of 55 gallons per person per day for indoor water use (dropping to 50 gallons by 2030); a yet-to-be determined amount for residential outdoor use that will vary depending on regional climates; and a standard for water loss due to leak rates in water distribution systems.

Organizations who supported the legislation say it makes sense to reduce demand as the state’s population grows, and allow each local area the flexibility for devising their own plan while California continues to develop new supplies, from recycled water to storm water capture to new reservoirs. Supporters included business groups such as the Bay Area Council and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, along with water agencies like the Contra Costa Water District, East Bay Municipal Utility District, the Santa Clara Valley Water District, and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. Environmentalists supporting the laws included the Audubon Society, the Nature Conservancy and the Natural Resources Defense Council. Some environmental organizations including the Sierra Club of California said the rules didn’t go far enough.

Many of the state’s water agencies, including Bella Vista Water District opposed the legislation, based on argument that Sacramento shouldn’t be telling local government what to do. “Every local water agency supports conservation and has a responsibility to make sure its water users use water efficiently,” said Tim Quinn, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies, which opposed the bill. “This was never about whether we should be pursuing conservation. It was about how.”