The California State Water Resources Control Board (“State Board”) recently asked for comments on the potential modification of the current Emergency Drought Regulations for Statewide Urban Water Conservation (“Regulations”). After Governor Brown issued an Executive Order on April 1, 2015, on actions necessary to address California’s severe and ongoing drought conditions, the State Board adopted the Regulations to implement provisions of the Governor’s Executive Order. Most significantly, the Regulations called for a mandatory statewide reduction in potable water use by 25 percent. The Regulations placed urban water purveyors into various “tiers,” based on past water use, calling for specific reductions in water use ranging from 4 percent to 36 percent per capita per day compared to 2014 water use.
The Regulations were initially set to expire in February 2016. In November 2015, Governor Brown issued an additional Executive Order calling for the extension of the Regulations if drought conditions continued through January 2016. With California still experiencing severe drought conditions, on February 2, 2016, the State Board extended the Regulations through October 2016. The State Board also slightly modified the Regulations to allow for reductions in the tiered conservation targets based on climate conditions and population growth. The State Board also indicated it would consider further adjustments to the Regulations in April, based on updated water supply conditions.
The state has indicated that increased rainfall this year, including in early March, is “encouraging,” but some regions in the state still have below average rainfall. Statewide, the drought continues to present challenges. The State Board has indicated that it might consider rescinding the Regulations prior to October 2016, based on precipitation amounts, but it also could extend the Regulations if it appears drought conditions have continued into 2016. Since drought conditions have not been completely alleviated throughout the state, it appears likely that the Regulations will continue at least until the scheduled October 2016 expiration. It also does not appear likely that the State Board will substantially modify the Regulations, given its past response to comments and requests for modification, and based on current precipitation amounts.