California Department of Water Resources exhibits a water-wise landscape featuring drought tolerant plants at the Home and Landscape Expo at the Cal Expo fairgrounds in Sacramento, California on January 27, 2017. Florence Low / California Department of Water Resources, FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY
PANEL DISCUSSION: What do the new water conservation and efficiency requirements mean for your water agency?
California’s changing climate requires residents to move beyond temporary emergency drought measures and adopt permanent changes to use water more wisely and prepare for more frequent and persistent periods of limited water supply. In recognition of that, Governor signed SB 606 and AB 1668 May 31, 2018 which set new water efficiency standards and strengthened planning requirements for water suppliers, as well as provisions for agricultural water management and country drought planning for small systems.
At the fall conference of the Association of California Water Agencies, a panel comprised of representatives from water agencies who were personally involved in the development of the long-term water conservation legislation discussed the new legislation and what it means for water agencies across the state.
Adam Robin began the presentation by discussing the agricultural water management and countywide drought planning requirements.
AB 1668, authored by Assemblymember Friedman, amends the existing Agricultural Water Management Planning Act in several key ways. The Agricultural Water Management Planning Act requires the preparation, adoption, and submittal of a plan every 5 years. Agricultural water suppliers providing water to more than 10,000 irrigated acres are subject to the requirements to prepare an Ag Water Management Plan. However, an agricultural water supplier that provides water to less than 25,000 irrigated acres is not subject to the requirements unless sufficient funding has specifically been provided to that water supplier for the purpose of compliance with AWMP requirements.
Under the existing Agricultural Water Management Planning Act, agricultural water management plans are required to describe the details of their service area, such as size, location, soil characteristics, and terrain; the plans must also describe the quality and quantity of water resources available to the agency, as well as the water use equipment in the service area.
AB 1668 prescribes additional elements to be included as part of the agricultural water management plan. A drought plan must be included that describes the actions that the agency will take related to drought preparedness and management of water during drought conditions. Water suppliers must now prepare a water budget based on quantification of all inflow and outflow components of that supplier’s service area. The plan must include water management objectives that are based on the water budget, as well as the quantification of water use efficiency within the service area based on one of four approved methods, which were prepared by the Department of Water Resources and submitted to the legislature in 2012.
Agricultural water management plans must now be submitted electronically within 30 days of their adoption. Mr. Robin noted that DWR is now in the process of developing standardized forms that ag water suppliers will use to submit their ag water management plans.
The legislation also grants DWR has new enforcement authorities so if, upon review of an ag water management plan, DWR deems it deficient, then they enter a cycle that essentially culminates with DWR having a third party contracted to prepare an ag water management plan with the costs of preparing the plan recoverable from the supplier. In addition, if the supplier chooses not to cooperate with the third party preparing entity, DWR has the authority to levy fines at $1000 per day up to a maximum of $25,000. Agricultural water management plans are required to be prepared every 5 years; the first cycle to incorporate the new requirements is in 2021.
The new legislation also makes changes to existing requirements for report aggregate farm gate delivery data. The reports will now have to be submitted electronically and the submittal date is changing to April 1st. The data must now be organized by groundwater basin or subbasin within the supplier’s service area if applicable. Mr. Robin noted that DWR is currently working to clarify exactly how the requirement is going to work. Ag water suppliers will have to submit their first electronic aggregate farm gate delivery data reports on April 1 of next year.
Mr. Robin noted that small water systems in rural communities are often the most vulnerable to drought conditions due to limited supply options and limited technical, managerial, and financial capacity in many cases, so the legislation also has provisions pertaining to drought planning for small water systems. By January 1, 2020, in consultation with the Water Board and other relevant state and local agencies, DWR is tasked with using available data to identify small water systems and rural communities that may be at risk for water shortage vulnerability. The Department then is required to notify counties and groundwater sustainability agencies of where those small water systems and rural communities that might be vulnerable are within their service area.
DWR is also required in consultation with the State Water Board to propose to the Governor and Legislature recommendations and guidance related to the development and implementation of county-wide drought and water shortage contingency plans to address the potential needs of small water systems and rural communities. The guidance in the legislation requires five categories of recommendations for the plans, including how drought vulnerability is assessed, actions that can be taken to reduce drought vulnerability, response efforts that might be implemented during times of drought, data needs and reporting, and the goals and responsibilities for interested parties and how coordination will happen with other relevant water management planning efforts at the county level. Additionally there is a requirement to look at how these plans might be incorporated into existing planning processes at the county level.
“Taken together, this element of the legislation really reflects a perceived need for small water systems and rural communities to be more integrated with the capacities and institutions that already exist at the local level to ensure that they are less vulnerable to drought,” said Mr. Robin.
ELIZABETH LOVSTED: Urban Drought Planning
Elizabeth Lovsted then discussed the urban drought planning portion of the new legislation. The new legislation addresses planning for longer periods of drought in the urban water management plans, stronger water shortage contingency plans, and calculating how much water supplies an agency has compared to customer demand.
Urban water management plans are updated every five years, with the next update due in 2021. The plans take a comprehensive look at supply and demand and project demand 20 years into the future. Currently, the plans are required to look at three dry years, but the new legislation extends the requirement to 5 years.
“They are going to use criteria that are going to be locally available, so it needs to be worked out what ‘locally-available’ means,” Ms. Lovsted said.
Energy data for each of your water supplies will also be required; the details of that will work must also be determined. “We will be working with them in the coming years on putting together those guidelines and how to implement that,” she said.
The most significant changes are to the requirements of water shortage contingency plans. “All water agencies have some sort of contingency plans as part of the urban water management planning requirements,” she explained. “This is actually creating a stand alone document, and so just like our urban water management plans have to go through a public review process and be approved, these water shortage contingency plans will have to as well.”
The Water Shortage Contingency Plans will need to address six standard shortage levels, along with the demand reduction and supply actions to take to meet shortage challenges at each of those levels. A communications plan for customers is also required, as is an implementation plan and a financial plan for drought conditions.
The legislation also requires an annual water supply and demand assessment. “One of the things that we heard during the last drought is that there wasn’t enough information from the water agencies to determine how much water there was available to meet the current demand, and so the idea is that on an annual basis, to provide information about the current year and one dry year, showing the supply and projected demand. Do we have enough supply to meet our demand under certain conditions? Again, the assumptions are going to be documented in the water shortage contingency plan and guidelines will be developed by DWR.”
In terms of milestones, by 2021, the drought and water supply assessments for small urban water suppliers, the new requirements for water shortage contingency plans and urban water management plans, and the first water supply and demand assessment will be required. There will be annually reporting that 2022, 2023, and 2024, and then in 2026, the next set of water shortage contingency plans and urban water management plans.
Ms. Lovsted acknowledged there’s still a lot of things to be determined in the legislation, such as details about reporting (how, what, to whom, and where), and how urban water management plans will address water loss, variances, and Commercial, Industrial, and Institutional performance. “Each one of these has a different timeline and a different set of guidelines and requirements that need to be worked out, and so we have a coalition of agencies that’s starting to work on how are we going to approach these things.”
“As we move forward, what we want to do is engage in those efforts,” she said. “DWR is looking to do pilot studies. How can we provide feedback to them on the concerns that we have with their implementation and the outdoor efficiency standards, so we really need to work together to collaborate and put together comment letters on guidelines and other things that are going to come out as this legislation is implemented.”
CHRISTINE COMPTON: Urban Water Use Efficiency Provisions
The new legislation set up a new reporting structure for urban retail water suppliers. Beginning in 2023, on November 1st and each November 1st thereafter, all urban retail water suppliers will have to submit an annual water use report to the State Water Board that calculates the previous year’s water use objective, the actual water uses that for those objectives, and to document the implementation of CII performance measures.
“We were able to achieve in the bills some flexibility in what that reporting period is, so you can report that information, even though it’s due November 1st, either on a calendar or fiscal year basis, recognizing that amongst retail agencies, there are different billing systems and the data is collected differently,” Ms. Compton said.
She acknowledged there has been a lot of misinformation on this part of the legislation, with some media reporting that it’s illegal to shower and do laundry on the same day and that households can be fined up to $1000/day for violating these water use restrictions. “None of that is true. This is a retail-level water budget; it’s not a customer water budget. The enforcement is not on customers, it’s all at the retail level, and so that’s what we’re going to focus on today.”
An urban water use objective is defined in the legislation as ‘an estimate of aggregate efficient water use for the previous year based on adopted water use efficiency standards, and local service area characteristics for that year as described in Section 10609.30.’ She acknowledged that’s a lot of legal-ese, but she gave a broad overview of how it will be calculated: “They will take your indoor residential water use which is essentially your calculation times your indoor standard, and your residential outdoor water use, which is the irrigable area times the standard, the CII dedicated irrigation, and they’ll set a standard for that,” Ms. Compton said. “There is a portion of the formula that deals with water loss, and there’s a category for variances.”
The legislation sets an indoor standard of 55 gallons per person per day until 2025; it drops down to 52.5 gallons per person per day until 2030; and then in 2030, it drops to 50 gallons per person per day.
“The caveat on this is the bill provided that DWR in consultation with the State Board will need to conduct investigations and studies and look at are these the appropriate water use efficiency standards for indoor residential use or not, and they can make recommendations to the legislature,” she said. “When looking at that, they are asked to look at the benefits and consequences of what the appropriate standard would be, taking into account also the impacts on those of us that recycle water either for us non-potable or potable use. The bills say that whatever the higher of either the recommendations or the statutory commissions you see listed here, the 55, 52.5 or 50 will be the standard that will be used in calculating your urban water use objective for those time periods.”
The outdoor standard is a large piece of the implementation, but the details aren’t known yet. The standards will be set by the State Board in consultation with DWR, for both residential outdoor use and CII dedicated irrigation meters, and per the statutes, they are to incorporate the principles of the Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance and will be adopted by June 30, 2021.
The standards for water loss for retail suppliers will be the standards adopted by the State Water Board pursuant to SB 555 and that process is currently underway. She noted that the State Board has been asked to look at the feasibility of urban wholesale water suppliers doing similar water loss reporting.
With respect to variances, DWR will recommend to the State Board and the State Board will adopt ways to do variances for substantial water uses, such as seasonal populations, higher TDS in recycled water, evaporative coolers, and other things that the water community had said need to be accounted for but they aren’t accounted for in the current formula and weren’t taken into account during the last drought.
Lastly, Ms. Compton gave a broad overview of the provisions for potable reuse. “In addition to the base water use objective, if you’re an agency that has potable reuse, you can take a potable reuse credit,” she said. “The way that works is basically you have your base water use objective that you calculate, and if you have potable reuse, you take that base water use objective times the amount of potable reuse that you serve as a percentage, and that’s the maximum credit that you can take. So you’re only taking a credit, but it’s added to your overall water objective so it enlarges it. It can only been taken to a maximum of 10% if you don’t have a current project and a maximum of 15% if you have an existing project.”
Moderator Brian Poulsen directs the first question to Christine Compton. He noted that ACWA’s Legislative Committee and a number of water agencies were involved in the development of the legislation, but at the end of the day, the water agencies didn’t get everything they wanted. What are the wins and losses for the water agency community in terms of what was ultimately enacted?
Ms. Compton said that they ended up in a good place with a number of the asks that the water community was seeking. “We were advocating the variances and the provision for the State Board to absolutely adopt variances for substantial water uses that we all need to have included; that was something that we got in the bills. We wanted the outdoor standards to be reflective of the principles of the model ordinance; we got that in the bills. There’s a lot more work to do on the implementation, we’re not all the way there, but those were big things. Additionally the potable reuse credit was a huge topic of conversation, and that ended up in the bill; a lot of the agencies that have potable reuse were comfortable with the percentages. They wanted more, but legislation is a compromise oftentimes.”
“Some of the things that the water community was looking for but we didn’t win, for example, we asked the state agencies provide retail agencies all the data they are going to need, because this is hugely data intensive to be able to calculate your urban water use objective,” Ms. Compton continued. “The legislation says that they will provide the residential irrigable acreage data, but there’s a lot more to do in that, so that’s an area that as the bills are implemented and we turn to the state agencies to have these conversations, we need to determine, how are we going to make sure that all of us in the state are able to calculate it and meet the objectives of the bill?”
Adam Robin added that the bills do substantively advance ag water management requirements, and there are important pieces related to how counties and other local governments will plan and understand the issues facing rural communities and small water systems, as well as urban water management planning. “When we compare the ultimate legislation that was enacted to some of the earlier versions of the language, for example, the budget trailer bill was introduced in 2017, so not a policy bill that included all of these requirements, and we compare what we have to that bill, I think there were some really key additions. For example, water rights protection language was added, which to many water agencies, it was absolutely a key piece of this. Additionally, a lot of the authorities available to state agencies to set and revise these standards were substantially modified so for example, the State Water Resources Control Board is charged with adopting the outdoor water use efficiency standards. You do that one time, so communities and water agencies have the ability to understand what the standard is, engage in its development over the next several years, and then work to implement it. Under the earlier version of the language, that standard could be adopted and modified at any time. That’s a significant development of the legislation.”
“The addition of variances is a key piece,” continued Mr. Robin. “That evolved from there not being any variances accounted for in the legislation to the State Water Resources Control Board having the authority to adopt variances to DWR in charge of the development of variances which the State Water Resources Control Board must then adopt. So there are some really significant pieces of the legislation that evolved over time. The engagement of water agencies, ACWA and a coalition of statewide agencies that was led by agencies such as Irvine Ranch Water District, Eastern, the Regional Water Authority was really key in seeing some of the changes incorporated in the full legislation.”
Moderator Brian Poulsen notes that agencies lobbied hard on enforcement. What did the legislation ultimately produce in terms of enforcement of these provisions?
Christine Compton said that the discussion on enforcement really revolved around there being a glidepath. “We start reporting in 2023, recognizing that it’s going to take time for agencies to get their customers to respond once we are able to calculate the urban water use objective, and while our customers are really great, we’re talking about cultural changes, changes on how we all use water, and our customers need time to adapt to that so they can ultimately meet the objective. We were able to achieve a glidepath in the legislation. They start basically with informational orders, notices, conservation orders, and then potentially fines later on, and we were able to shape some of that language. I think the water community was hoping there would be a more firm glidepath than the language currently has, but the whole idea behind the enforcement should be getting agencies to be successful in meeting the water use objective. I think we got probably 80% there, but I think that’s the State Board’s intent, but firm language in this section is always more comforting, especially for those of us that are attorneys.”
“There is a progressive approach to enforcement in the bill, starting with informational orders and working all the way down to conservation orders,” said Adam Robin. “Early versions of the legislation included authority for state agencies to issue cease and desist orders to agencies that violated their standard, and it wasn’t entirely clear what that meant. Do you cease delivering water to your customers, is it just a tool for agencies to impose additional liabilities? Those provisions were stripped out over time and again, both in terms of timing and substance, and now there is a more gradual approach to enforcement. It reflects the fact that everybody is going to be learning as they move through this process. I think state agencies will be learning a lot as they perceive responses to informational orders, for example. Again I would look to the water rights protection language … “
Mr. Poulsen noted that almost ten years ago, in 2009, the legislature enacted SB 7×7. One of the things that legislation did was require a 20% reduction in urban water use by 2020. How does this recently enacted legislation relate to the 20×2020 legislation?
“The 2009 legislation was the first time we started to really look beyond just devices and a checklist of things to do to more what your actual savings are, and we’re starting to track what we save and how it really impacts our customer’s demand,” said Elizabeth Lovsted. “This legislation, I think, is really looking to define efficiency, and so as opposed to continuing to ratchet down that 20×2020, 30×2030, continuing to ratchet down, it’s really looking at what water use does a community need and are they being efficient with that? It’s what impacts the community: the weather, the amount of landscape in the community, the size of households that are in the community, the number of people in the community, so instead of just saying ok we’re going to ratchet you down, it’s setting an efficiency standard. I think it’s a really good path forward as opposed to making random cutbacks; it’s saying let’s be efficient, and let’s define what that is.”
“A coalition of water agencies and business organizations, local governments and others proposed legislation back in 2017, and in addition to the efficiency based target, it did include 25%x2025 target, so I think there’s a recognition among the group of managers that proposed that legislation that it’s not a perfect measure,” said Adam Robin. “It’s crude in its calculation; it’s not sophisticated as using aerial imagery to calculate the efficiency-based target for a supplier’s service area. But at the end of the day, what we need to keep in mind is the fact that these requirements attach to all water suppliers in all parts of the state. When you consider the diversity of the state in terms of demographics, in terms of populations, in terms of densities, in terms of land use, there’s a lot of complexity when you get into the foothills region or the forested regions of the state where making the efficiency based model work relies on this really exciting new technology. It’s going to take a lot of effort to make that work, so the efficiency based targets are great … at the end of the day, this represents a fundamental shift in how we think about water use efficiency.”
“One thing that I don’t think we can emphasize enough is the implementation of this is key,” said Christine Compton. “We need as the water community to make sure that we implement it as a state, looking at all the complexities of the data, because we want to get it right. We want this to be successful and while it’s not as simplified as the 25×2025, it does set a new standard for California to be the new way we’re going to do this going forward, and so I think we need to embrace that and make sure we’re successful.”
“What this legislation does is set a framework for the urban water management piece of it, and that framework is currently coming to life,” added Mr. Robin. “We’re putting meat on the bones through a variety of advisory committee processes and other things, and I just cannot thank agencies around the state and ACWA that are meaningfully engaged in that process to help make this work for agencies around the state. It’s a lot of work, and it’s going to take years to make it work, but really I think the water agencies are off to a great start. They are working on this constructively, and make no mistake, it’s a lot of work, but I think so far, folks seem to be coming together.”
Question: Does this legislation apply to water systems under 3000 connections?
Mr. Robin said that it applies to retail water suppliers that serve 3300 people. Ms. Compton notes that the urban water use objective only applies to urban retail water agencies, but there are other parts of the bill that may apply if you’re not a retail water supplier.
Question: One of the premises of this legislation was, this new target system applied across the state would result in lower water use than 20×2020. Is that going to happen? Can tell me from Eastern’s standpoint, do you think your target is lower than your 2020 target, and if doesn’t happen, what are the implications of changing the law?
“We’re actually one of the three water agencies that used method 2 under 20×2020 which is an efficiency based method, so our targets will probably become fairly similar,” said Ms. Lovsted. “The second part of that is that it has to, because the legislation requires it to save more water than 20×2020. Now that does it need to save 1% more or 5% more? It just has to save more, and so I think as we work out the details of, especially outdoor component, defining those targets is one of the details that needs to be worked out.”
Question: You mentioned for water shortage contingency plans that there were going to be six standard levels in the plan. Does that then eliminate the ability for agencies to individually determine what their own shortage stages should be that would best fit their agency?
“It actually does in the legislation tie six shortages to certain percentages,” said Elizabeth Lovsted. “So if you take supply actions that reduces your demand, how does that work under the new legislation? If facing an over 10% shortage, you have stored groundwater and you supplement your supply with stored groundwater, you only have to reduce your demand by 5%. I’m sure the attorneys will correct me, but that’s how I am reading it, that you can take both demand and supply actions under the stipulated shortage conditions to meet your customer’s needs.”
“That’s the way I read it as well,” said Christine Compton. “I would note that while the language has the six stages that you have to plan to, it does allow you to try and match some of the existing planning up to those stages, but essentially they want a uniform standard that we’re all planning to so that way … I don’t really understand what it means, to be honest, because it was a sticking point for the water community.”
“You have to say what you’re going to do at 10% shortage, 20% down to 60% or 50%, and a lot of water suppliers said, that doesn’t make sense, given how our system is disrupted or the supply sources available to us, that’s not how we think about it,” added Adam Robin. “There are agencies that have done a ton of work to prepare for dry conditions, and they can’t come up with a scenario where they’ll experience a 50% shortage of supply. It just doesn’t exist for them because they have been building resilient sources of supply. But for state agencies, for example, you can understand the value of being able to look at all the water systems that they regulate statewide and understand where those fit in to these uniform set of tiers.”
Question: It seems to me that agencies that have budget-based rates with an inside use and an outside use rate have an advantage here. If agencies have budget based rates, might they have to consider now? What changes will you have to make to those rates?
Elizabeth Lovsted said that even with their budget-based rates, it will take work to make sure their information fits with it. “Our definitions are consistent with what the state defines … but I think there are still going to be adjustments over time for those of us that have budget based rates. I think that, for all agencies that get this information, hopefully you’ll have information about which of your customers are using more water that will allow you to target them. I think that’s one of the benefits of the budget based rates; we know which of our customers are being inefficient and using more water than they need, so we can target them for savings, and they are actually best candidate for savings as well.”
Christine Compton said that they also have budget-based rates, and while they are at an advantage because they do have a good chunk of the data, there is still more data at a different level that is needed. “It’s different for how you do a budget for your individual customers compared to the retail level and the framework that the state has laid out. There’s some overlap there, you’re counting different things, so it’s really is the implementation that’s the issue. I don’t think the implementation of this will shape how we do our rates. Our rates are our cost of service rates, we focused on that and how we set the water budget for our individual customers, we have a pretty solid method of how we do that.”
Mr. Robin noted that the end point for enforcement is conservation orders. “Beginning in 2025, the State Water Resources Control Board can issue a supplier that does not meet their water use objective a conservation order and it includes a number of things the Water Board might include in its enforcement authority, but it’s not limited to those things. Many agencies around the state have experience with conservation orders that were issued to them during the drought emergency – if you did not meet your conservation target during the drought then you received a conservation order. Conservation orders did include requirements in some cases that suppliers initiate Prop 218 processes and develop potential alternative rate models that would allow them to better achieve those conservation targets that were imposed by the State Water Board during the drought emergency. I don’t want to make too much of that because frankly I’m not sure what was the outcome of those processes that were included in the conservation were, but it’s just something to keep in mind again. Maybe it’s another spur in people’s sides to really be involved with in the development of standards.”
Moderator Brian Poulsen notes that the legislation includes language that’s protective of water rights. “My recollection is that both the recently enacted statutes and the SB 7×7 incorporate water code section 1011. Could you describe what that says and why that’s a protection for the water rights holders?”
“Water Code Section 1011 basically says that if you conserve water, you can retain the ability to transfer that water,” said Adam Robin. “Operationalizing that and making that meaningful and something that agencies can actually use through enhanced opportunities to conserve water is another area that’s ripe for further development and hopefully constructive conversations between state agencies and those water suppliers that are at a certain level.”
Question: “Christine, you mentioned the variance for potable reuse. How about recycled water use? And also, we’re an agency that right now is not budget based. Is there a requirement to adopt budget based rates?”
Christine Compton clarified that there’s no requirement that any agency move to adopt a rate structure in these bills or anywhere else. “The potable reuse is a credit, not a variance. If you can prove that you use your potable reuse, you’re able to take that credit. On the recycled water, that was a large sticking point for many folks, and where it is considered is in the language on what the principles of the model ordinance mean, so as agencies set the outdoor standards, they will need to take into account other water use including recycled water … the idea is you’d be given a larger budget for recycled water irrigated sites than you would for potable irrigated water sites.”
Follow up question: “My question is about 30% of the water we use in my area is recycled overall. And it doesn’t sound like we’d be getting a credit for that.”
“As I understand it, most agencies that irrigate with recycled water are irrigating and they are using somewhere around a 1.0 ET factor,” said Ms. Compton. “So you would basically in the budget be getting the equivalence of that use, assuming that state agencies grant the 1.0 when they set the standards.”
Moderator Brian Poulsen noted that there have been a number of things enacted that have been intended to incentivize development of recycled water infrastructure. Do you think that the potable reuse credit in the legislation will meaningfully further the goal of expanding recycled water use or potable reuse?
Christine Compton said she hopes that it does, but there are mixed opinions on this. “Those of us that are huge recycled water advocates were hoping that there would be more of an incentive in the legislation then there ended up being to really incentivize agencies that many not have made the heavy investment in potable reuse or non-potable use. I think those agencies that made the investment were hoping for more language in the legislation that fully granted the 1.0 ET factor for recycled water irrigated sites, and some agencies wanted the larger credit for potable reuse, so I think there’s a split on this. Some folks thought it was sufficient, other folks felt it wasn’t, and only time will prove out about whether the legislation really incentivizes those investments by other agencies or not. I think there’s other legislation that we’re hearing about that may change that dynamic and so it won’t be so much about this legislation, it may be about other mandates.”
Question: What recourse do water agencies have if they disagree with the methodology or the assessment or the analysis done by the Water Board of DWR, when it comes to setting standards or when it comes to identifying the variance associated with what’s going to be allocated to a water agency?
“The reliability of your water supply for the water use objective is not a factor here,” said Elizabeth Lovsted. “You need to meet the objective, regardless of whether you have more than enough supply to supply your current needs if it exceeds your objective. So with that said, and I think going back to the previous question, for water rights protection, I think that’s why the language … it’s so important to at least protect water rights in the legislation. … I think the limitation of this is so important. Our opportunity, if you disagree with the methodologies or the guidance or what the standards are being proposed to set up, is really in the process that the state agencies are beginning to undertake that implements this legislation. That’s our opportunity to comment, provide feedback, talk about the data, talk about the standards, to talk about the challenges and the unintended consequences or benefits of setting the standards at any particular location. Once they are set, they are set and then we need to meet the urban water use objective based on those standards.”
Question: What consideration if any was given to new sources for water, for example, desal?
“There are basically caps on how much an urban water supplier can produce and provide in their surface area,” said Adam Robin. “So while there is important credit for sources of potable reuse of 10 to 15%, new sources of supply generally does not enter into the calculation of the objective for the urban water supplier, and that’s a real shift. I think it’s one of the reasons why agencies reacted and engaged so strongly with this legislation, but whether it’s desal or other sources of supply, at the end of the day, it doesn’t materially affect the urban water use objective that’s ultimately calculated.”
Christine Compton added that while it doesn’t affect the urban water use objective, it is an important component to the annual water supply and demand assessment that agencies will have to do. “So if you have a supply that is resilient and highly reliable, that will help ensure that the stress test that you’re conducting doesn’t necessarily hit a stage where you’ll have to invoke a water shortage contingency plan and the actions that you planned for it. So while it’s not in the water use objective, there is a benefit on the drought planning side and the responses to that in the structure that’s set up.”
Moderator Brian Poulsen says the mention of stress test brings back memories of the drought and emergency regulations. “It’s my observation that many of the water agencies in the state were more prepared to deal with the drought that we last experienced than perhaps the decision makers at the State Water Board and the Brown Administration understood and I think that partly resulted in the emergency regulations that we had. My question is do you think that this legislation will better inform the decision makers in advance of the next drought or what should agencies be doing to help facilitate that kind of information?”
“I think the hope is, and I think you see it in the legislation, that we won’t have to return to such drastic emergency regulations,” said Christine Compton. “The idea from the state agencies, the administration, the legislature, and many of the water agencies that were involved is that this sets up a framework that gives the state the data that they need to know that we’re all our jobs. Part of the challenge we had in this last drought was the state agencies and the administration didn’t feel like they had the data to know for sure, and so they felt like they needed to be better safe than sorry and so they took a drastic action.”
“A lot of us don’t want to repeat that, and wanted and are hoping that this framework sets up something that gives the agencies the data so we all know where we stand, and the assurance that we’re all responding in ways that are appropriate for the supply and the shortage conditions we may be facing in our own individual agencies,” Ms. Compton said.
“In the last drought, definitely there were many of us that the demand reduction that we were required to meet for the state were not a reflection of our supply conditions in any way,” said Elizabeth Lovsted. “One thing we recognized is that being open with some of our data is very important, and letting people know that we understand that we have droughts and we plan for these things and we do things like desalination and groundwater banking and an assortment of all kinds of things like recycled water, so that when we have those dry periods, we have the supply to still meet our customers’ demands. I think the annual report on the supply and demand and the more robust information in the urban water management plans feeds into prime information about where we are in areas of meeting demands across the state. … There’s a component in there that says the state needs to look to our water shortage contingency plans when implementing the additional emergency regulations. I think that was an important part of the bill as well that we were really fighting for so that we don’t see those cutbacks like we saw in the past.”
Adam Robin noted that state and local agencies were not equipped to have a comprehensive full scope conversation about who was prepared and who was experiencing what and so there was monthly reporting through the emergency regulations so the state agencies got a picture of the conditions folks were experiencing. “With this bill taking effect, agencies will be required to provide that information. There is sort of a bargain here, so in exchange for reporting monthly and giving the state a complete picture of the conditions they are experiencing, there’s language in the bill that says it is the intent of the legislature that state agencies during drought emergency will defer to the implementation of locally adopted water shortage contingency plans, so that give and take was incorporated into the legislation.”
Question: Success is yet another drop in agency revenue through water use, which is difficult. Many disadvantaged communities throughout the state are already at capacity in raising rates from the last round in decline in revenue through water use. Where are the discussions going to be to mitigate that problem and where may someone who is interested in that be involved in those discussions to make sure that our communities are being considered when it comes to enforcement of decreased revenue with decreased water use?
Adam Robin noted that it’s a great point and something that was raised during the discussions. “I think there were varying levels of frustration in the response back from folks who were really pushing things forward was there’s enough time that agencies will be able to adjust. Ultimately it speaks to the need to get engaged at this point because if at the end of the day, the objectives reflect what you’re actually experiencing on the ground and we’re able to really make the most of the hard-fought hard-won provisions in here that we think account for existing conditions in a meaningful way, maybe the objectives won’t result in dramatic objectives that would fundamentally reshape communities in how they use water. The outdoor standard is required to account for both new and existing landscapes. The idea was that we are talking about efficient water use, we’re not talking about a transformative standard that changes the look and feel of California … “
Question: After all this analysis, it sounds to me like perhaps local agencies are going to be handed a number of big tasks. What do you see as the likely effects on ratepayers under this regime?
Adam Robin noted that some agencies undertook some very high level cost estimates to help inform the debate in the legislation. “The anticipated costs of compliance were substantial without a doubt and those costs get passed through directly to ratepayers. That said, so many of those details are still be worked out in implementation. We pushed hard for state agencies to be given the authorities to adopt alternative methods to compliance if they determine it is economically infeasible for certain sizes of agencies to comply with these standards, and we couldn’t’ get that. At the end of the day, that was a non-starter for folks who were making the decisions on the legislation so … it’s not in the law currently. Whether there is a need for something like that in the future remains to be seen.”
Elizabeth Lovsted noted that the staff at the state agencies are grappling with these issues. “They are thinking really hard about these issues, and I don’t want to undercut that. That’s an important part of the process and their willingness to engage in conversations with the water community on these issues is very much appreciated and so important to successful implementation. Second, there will be an impact to ratepayers. There’s no way of denying that. The good news is that there is some time here before its fully implemented. There is time to make the adjustments, and while that certainly doesn’t help with affordability or the decisions that folks have to make on their rates, hopefully we can work on some of these issues as it is implemented … “