Updated draft water rule retains feasibility and flexibility provisions

May 22, 2024

The 15-day public comment period ends on June 4

By Melissa Sparks-Kranz, legislative affairs lobbyist (environmental quality)

On Monday, the State Water Board released the third version of draft water efficiency regulations as part of a 15-day comment period. The update maintains changes Cal Cities previously advocated for, including five more years to implement water savings programs and alternative compliance pathways for under-resourced communities and urban water suppliers with significant water reductions. Cities would have two years to demonstrate compliance once the agency adopts the final regulations.

The proposed regulations aim to reduce water usage in urban areas over the long term to lessen the need for mandatory water reductions during the next drought. Cities represent about half of the nearly 400 affected urban suppliers.

The agency also updated provisional data showing how much water each supplier will need to conserve. Residential customers will need to make long-term changes to their indoor and outdoor water usage under the regulations. To achieve water savings, cities and urban suppliers will need to calculate water usage and create well-designed conservation programs that incentivize change.

Cal Cities and city representatives will provide further input in this latest round of rulemaking, which started last August. Cal Cities and other stakeholders have provided feedback during public comment periods, in public meetings with the State Water Board, and in working discussions.

What changed in the third version of the draft regulations?

State regulators made some changes that may further support local urban water suppliers. This new version includes a budgeted amount of water to protect tree canopies and prevent the heat island effect.

Regulators also clarified that cities and urban suppliers cannot increase water usage beyond the 20% water reduction goals they achieved in 2020. The new provision is aimed at preventing an increase in water use beyond those prior reductions. Ninety-seven percent of water suppliers already achieved or surpassed those targets, making such a reversion unlikely.

Water conservation is one of many tools in the toolbox as California’s dramatic swings from one extreme weather event to the next grow worse under climate change. The regulations aim to reduce water usage by approximately 500,000 acre-feet — about 1% of the state’s total water use according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office. An acre-foot is enough to serve the needs of about three families for a year in California.

What’s next?

This third and likely final comment period ends on June 4. The State Water Board anticipates finalizing the regulation mid-summer. Individual cities that would like to send written comment letters should email them to commentletters@waterboards.ca.gov with the subject line: Comment Letter – Proposed Making Conservation a California Way of Life Regulation. Please forward a copy of your letter to Cal Cities at cityletters@calcities.org.

To join the Cal Cities Water Working Group, which will be meeting multiple times over the next several weeks — or for more resources, information, and updates on the conservation regulations — please email Melissa Sparks-Kranz.