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As California enters into a fourth year of severe drought, and with the Sierra snowpack at historic low levels, Governor Brown, on April 1st, issued an Executive order directing the State Water Resources Control Board to impose restrictions to achieve a statewide 25% reduction in potable urban water usage as compared to the amount used in 2013. The Governors executive order directed the Water Board, and other state agencies, to impose additional restrictions on water use and to take action to conserve water. We will not know the specific requirements for implementation the Governor’s executive order until the Water board adopts new emergency regulations.

We are in historic drought times because the Governor Executive Order comes just 5 days after the Water Board’s extended and expanded emergency regulations. 

I will summarize the emergency regulations that became effective on March 27th, 2015 as we wait for the Water Board to adopt new regulations. 

The newly effective drought emergency water conservation regulations include two main sections. 

Section 864 imposes specific prohibitions for the outdoor use of potable water on all Californians. All of the prohibitions currently in place under the July 2014 emergency regulations have been extended. New this year, Section 864 (1) prohibits the application of potable water to outdoor landscapes within 48 hours of measurable rainfall; (2) restricts eating and drinking establishments from serving drinking water other than upon request; and (3) requires operators of hotels and motels to notify guests that they can choose not to have towels and linens laundered daily. 

Section 865 requires the following mandatory actions by urban water suppliers: 

  • Urban water suppliers must implement all requirements and actions of the stage of its water shortage contingency plan that include mandatory restrictions on the number of days that outdoor irrigation of ornamental landscapes or turf with potable water is allowed, or shall amend its water shortage contingency plan to include mandatory restrictions on the number of days that such irrigation is allowed, and then implement those restrictions within 45 days. As an alternative, an urban water supplier may submit a request for approval of a plan that includes an allocation based rate structure that achieves a level of conservation that would be superior to limiting outdoor irrigation of ornamental landscapes or turf to no more than 2 days per week. 
  • An urban water supplier that does not have a water shortage contingency plan that specifically restricts the number of days that outdoor irrigation with potable water is allowed must limit the outdoor irrigation of ornamental landscapes or turf with potable water to no more than 2 days per week. 
  • Urban water suppliers also must provide prompt notice to a customer when the urban water supplier obtains information that indicates that a leak may exist within the end-users exclusive control. 
  • And urban water suppliers must prepare and submit to the State Board monthly monitoring reports that include information about the amount of water produced and used, and water conservation compliance and enforcement efforts. 

The most significant new obligations imposed on urban water suppliers are (1) the requirement to limit outdoor irrigation of ornamental landscapes or turf with potable water to no more than 2 days per week if its water shortage contingency plan does not impose mandatory restrictions on the number of days for such irrigation (or to amend its water shortage contingency plan to include a specific restriction on the number of days); and (2) more detailed monthly monitoring reporting requirements. 

The requirements for water suppliers with less than 3,000 service connections have not changed significantly under the 2015 Water Board emergency regulations. 

The Water Board emergency regulations that will be adopted to implement the Governors Executive Order are sure to be more restricted than the regulations that went into effect last week.