Water board delays new regs limiting unnecessary waste of water

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The State Water Resources Control Board had planned to adopt permanent regulations to govern the wasteful and unnecessary use of water, regardless of whether a drought emergency has been declared. During the recent drought emergency, which Gov. Jerry Brown had declared from January 2014 to April 2017, the SWRCB had adopted temporary measures to encourage water conservation and limiting the unnecessary waste of water.

But as the board’s Feb. 20 meeting began, Chair Felicia Marcus announced that the discussion of the proposed regulations would be a workshop and, “… the board won’t take action today; we do want to hear from all the commentators.”

Some small changes were made and the SWRCB staff will circulate that again for public comment before the board acts, she said. No new date has been set to approve the final regulations.

However, staff did report that if the regulations were adopted in April or May, they could be effective July 1.

In May 2016, Brown issued an executive order (B-37-16), “Make Conservation a California Way of Life.” EO B-37-16, which sets forth actions designed to ensure water is used more wisely, eliminate water waste, strengthen local drought resilience, and improve agricultural water use efficiency and drought planning. To eliminate water waste, it directs the board to permanently prohibit practices that waste potable water.

This was the SWRCB introduction to the following proposed prohibitions:

• Using potable water to wash sidewalks and driveways;

• Allowing more than incidental runoff when irrigating turf and other ornamental landscapes;

• Using hoses without automatic shutoff nozzles to wash motor vehicles;

• Using potable water in ornamental fountains or decorative water features that do not re-circulate the water;

• Irrigating turf and ornamental landscape during and within 48 hours following measurable rainfall;

• Hotels and motels laundering towels and linens daily without providing guests the option of using them again;

• During a drought emergency, the serving of drinking water in restaurants and bars without it being requested; and

• As of Jan. 1, 2025, irrigating turf on public street medians and parkways unless the turf serves a community recreational or civic function, the turf is irrigated incidentally with trees, or the turf is watered with recycled water by an irrigation system installed prior to Jan. 1, 2018.

Most of these are familiar to California residents, and Hill water districts already implement some such as the car washing and sidewalks and driveways in their Stage 2 or 3 water conservation policies.

The most serious comments regarding the proposed regulations were concerns about how they would affect water rights. While the SWRCB staff said in its introduction that they reviewed this issue and do not believe the enforcement would impinge on water rights, several people felt differently.

Nevertheless, Danielle Green, representing several clients, said, “These regs are the beginning erosion of California’s well-established water law policy.”

At the end of the general comment period, board member Dorene D’Adamo requested more comments from the staff, especially legal counsel, in response to the public comments.

Another area that was the target of many comments was the amount of rainfall that would be measured to discourage watering within the next 48 hours. The original draft had 1/10 of an inch, but after so many comments, it was increased to a quarter of an inch.

Yet, several members of the public recommended deleting a specific amount since it creates confusion within larger districts. For example, a representative for the Los Angeles Water and Power District argued that rainfall from big rain events does not fall evenly across large districts. While some areas might receive a quarter of an inch, other neighbors could receive less.

He recommended leaving the implementation of this restriction to local districts.

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