Saving for a rainy day

New legislation takes long-term approach to combat drought

Courtesy Legislative Analyst’s Office
Chart showing increase in statewide per capita water usage during the summer months, averaging 85 gallons per person in 2016, according to data from the State Water Resources Control Board

Given the ongoing threat of severe drought, California lawmakers have added to and amended the State’s water code, stepping up limits and planning requirements for urban and agricultural water usage statewide, to be gradually implemented over the next 12 years.

Governor Jerry Brown recently signed into law two partnered bills affecting water-management planning– Senate Bill (SB) 606 and Assembly Bill (AB) 1668– which together shift the State’s emphasis from water conservation to more efficient water usage.

“In preparation for the next drought and our changing environment, we must use our precious resources wisely,” said Brown in a May 31 press statement following his signing of the bills. “We have efficiency goals for energy and cars– and now we have them for water.”

Instead of targeting individual households, the legislation requires municipalities to establish an average indoor water-use goal of 55 gallons per day per resident until 2025, dropping to 52.5 gallons from 2025 to 2030 and then 50 gallons as of Jan. 1, 2030.

The legislation also creates incentives for water suppliers to recycle water and requires both urban and agricultural water suppliers to set annual water budgets and prepare plans for drought. Those comprehensive frameworks must be in place by 2022.

“It’s a balanced approach that puts efficiency first and gives water agencies the flexibility to embrace innovation and tailor their policies to meet the unique needs of their community,” said Assemblymember Laura Friedman, author of AB 1668, in a press statement following Brown’s signing of the bills.

Though the ultimate 50-gallon-per-day indoor residential average called for in the legislation initiated social-media rumors that a California resident wouldn’t be able to take a shower and do laundry on the same day, the legislation does not target individuals but rather municipal averages.

According to the most recent data available from the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB), daily residential water usage statewide for indoor and outdoor use averaged 81 gallons in the month of April 2018. This is higher compared to water usage during Brown’s declaration of a drought emergency from January 2014 to April 2017, during which the statewide average in December 2016, for example, was 64.9 gallons. The lowest average was 57.2 gallons in February 2017.

Courtesy Calif. Water Boards
Chart from the “December 2016 Statewide Conservation Data” of the California Water Boards showing monthly statewide potable water production for the years 2013 to 2016, demonstrating an overall decrease in water production since 2013

Existing California law already requires the state to achieve a 20-percent reduction in urban per-capita water-use compared to 2013 by December 31, 2020, which many municipalities have achieved.

Charlie Honeycutt, Signal Hill city manager, told the Signal Tribune that the city responded well to the governor’s emergency-drought declaration and reduced water usage to meet that 20-percent reduction goal.

“Those water conservation efforts continue today,” he said.

Honeycutt further stated the City is just beginning to evaluate the impacts of limiting water use as required under SB 606 and AB 1668 in order to know how it will need to update its Urban Water Management Plan.

Similarly, according to Kaylee Weatherly, government and public affairs representative for the Long Beach Water Department (LBWD), the agency recently added to its website a statement that it anticipated no immediate impact to residents from these new laws, in part because of the community’s existing water-conservation efforts.

According to the SWRCB, each residential customer in Long Beach used 60.8 average daily gallons of water in August 2017.

Courtesy City of SH
A chart from Signal Hill Water Operations shows that average water usage over the past year is 14-percent less than the 2013-2014 average. The City’s goal has been to achieve a 12 percent reduction.

The LBWD also states that it will begin mandated reporting of system-wide average water usage by Nov. 1 2023, as required by the new laws, and will specify new water-efficiency performance measures for local businesses over the next several years.

Senator Robert Hertzberg, author of SB 606, said that such efforts are necessary to ensure continued water security.

“This is another important step in the Legislature’s focused effort to reengineer water policy away from crisis management and toward a 21st-century approach” he said, following Brown’s signing of the bill.

In the meantime, LBWD advises residents to continue water-conservation measures, especially for outdoor usage, in the following ways:

• Water landscapes only on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, before 9am or after 4pm, until Sept. 30, and then Tuesdays and Saturdays from October through March.
• Only water landscapes for 10 minutes per watering station per day, or 20 minutes if using water-efficient rotating nozzles.
• Do not water during measurable rainfall or anytime within 48 hours afterwards.
• Do not wash down hardscapes (driveways, sidewalks) with a hose unless using a pressurized device.
• Do not waste water due to breaks, leaks or other device malfunctions.
• Do not wash vehicles with a hose without a water shut-off nozzle.
• Cover pools and spas when not in use.
For businesses, the LBWD continues to enforce measures such as:
• Restaurants cannot serve water to customers without the customer requesting it.
• Hotels and motels must post signs notifying patrons they can choose not to have linens and towels washed daily.
• A conveyor type car-wash system must recirculate the wash and/or rinse water.