Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Article provided by the SCGA

Our 1st Public Affairs Update of 2024 reported that the State Legislative Analyst’s (LAO) official take on the State Water Resources Control Board’s (SWRCB) Proposed Rule to effectuate the Governor’s “Making Conservation a California Way of Life” Executive Order was aligned with the criticisms issued by the state’s water agencies/providers. Specifically, the LAO criticized the SWRCB’s Proposed regulations as having created implementation challenges that go well beyond what legislation requires or the State’s Department of Water Resources recommends, creating difficulties for water suppliers by adding needless complexity and overly stringent performance measures, adding onerous costs that are likely to outweigh potential benefits, adding to the burdens of already overburdened lower income customers, establishing overly aggressive timelines, and placing too much emphasis upon commercial outdoor use that represents only 3% of California’s water use. The LAO then issued a series of recommendations for legislative consideration.

Yesterday, the SWRCB accepted most if not all of those recommendations in a revised Proposed Rule – to refresh your memories a Rule to establish, for the first time, budget-based water conservation targets for the over 400 large water suppliers that supply most Californians with water. Per the press release put out by the Agency, the revised Proposed Rule, whose comment period runs through March 26, is different from the one so roundly criticized last autumn by the state’s water agencies, the LAO, and the DWR in that it extends “timelines for water suppliers to meet efficiency goals, broadening their access to alternative compliance pathways and increasing the overall flexibility for how the proposed regulation can be implemented.” Under the proposed regulation, water suppliers would develop their own budgets for six different urban water needs and then use them to calculate a total water use objective. The six budget categories are: Residential indoor water use, residential outdoor water use, water loss (or the amount lost to leakage), and the irrigation of commercial, industrial, and institutional landscapes. The regulation requires suppliers to meet their overall objective only, not the budget set for each of the components.

As SWRCB Executive Director Eric Oppenheimer put it in his agency’s release: “The Legislature recognized that conservation is not one-size-fits-all, so the proposed regulation provides water suppliers with the tools and flexibility to adjust their conservation actions to local conditions and unique circumstances. . . and for some suppliers that still find meeting their objectives challenging, the draft regulation offers alternative, easier ways to do so.”

The revised draft increases the number of suppliers that would qualify for alternative compliance pathways. It also extends the effective date for meeting objectives based on the most efficient outdoor standards by five years. In addition, the draft delays the board’s assessment of suppliers’ compliance with the regulation until 2027.

To give you an idea of just how different the new Proposed Rule is from the one that incurred so much criticism late last year, here is part of the statement that the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA) released in response to yesterday’s action:

“ACWA appreciates the work of the State Water Board over the past several months to understand the concerns of the water community. While ACWA staff continues to review the details of the revised draft regulation, it appears to address our primary concerns and is moving in the right direction toward a regulation that is feasible, cost-effective and avoids unintended impacts, while establishing an ambitious framework for advancing long-term water use efficiency in California.

The revised draft regulation now provides the appropriate flexibility in how urban water suppliers across the state can continue working with their customers to build on existing efforts to further advance long-term water use efficiency.”

The reviews from some of the state’s significant environmental organizations were not so sanguine. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Heal the Bay, Pacific Institute, and California Coastkeeper Alliance among others issued criticisms of SWRCB’s reversal of course.

Readers of these “Updates” don’t need us to connect the dots for them. The more dilatory approach adopted by the SWRCB, particularly its recognition of just how little can be gained by overly focusing on 3% of the state’s water use, comes as welcome relief to a sector that is a small part of that 3%.

Click here to read the Water Board’s updated fact sheet as it has now been amended to reflect changes in the way the Proposed New Rule affects compliance.