State Water Board Adopts Emergency Conservation Regulation for 2016

ACWA Regulatory Advisory
Feb. 3, 2016

State Water Board Adopts Emergency Conservation Regulation for 2016

The State Water Resources Control Board adopted an emergency conservation regulation late Tuesday that extends the requirements of the existing regulation through October with a few limited adjustments to reflect climate, growth, and development of some drought-resilient potable water supplies since 2013.

The regulation will now be submitted to the Office of Administrative Law, which will review and approve or deny the regulation. If approved by the Office of Administrative Law, the regulation will take effect immediately and remain in effect for 270 days from the approval date.

Materials related to the regulation are available here.

State Water Board members adopted the regulation after hearing several hours of testimony from local water agency representatives and others. Prior to the public comment, board staff presented amendments to the regulation and the accompanying resolution made since its release on Jan. 15. After the testimony, the board directed staff to make additional changes in a few areas to clarify some issues and reflect the board’s intent to revisit the regulation by May 1 to address water supply conditions.

The revised language also directs staff to work with the Department of Water Resources to develop a “proposed framework for enhanced urban water conservation, efficiency and resilience.” Staff is directed to report back to the board on “options for transitioning to a more resilience-based approach to dealing with drought by May 1 after continuing conversations with stakeholders and the Department of Water Resources.”

Over the past several months, ACWA and numerous member agencies have called on the State Water Board to allow locally developed drought-resilient water supplies to play a much more significant role in the state’s drought response in 2016.

In formal comments submitted Jan. 28, ACWA requested several changes to the draft regulation issued Jan. 15 to make the proposed adjustments more meaningful in practice and better recognize the importance of local water supply investments. ACWA‘s Jan. 28 comment letter is available here.

In oral testimony Feb. 2, ACWA Executive Director Timothy Quinn thanked the board for making modest adjustments but reiterated the need for both water supply tools and demand reduction tools to be used as the drought continues in 2016.

Final Regulation Includes Some Adjustments

The final regulation extends current mandatory reductions in urban water use through October and continues the mandatory conservation framework that took effect in June. It includes modest adjustments that likely would not have been made without extensive advocacy by ACWA and its member agencies.

These adjustments are expected to help some local water agencies as they continue their conservation efforts in 2016.

  • Climate adjustment: The final regulation includes a climate adjustment that could reduce a supplier’s conservation standard by up to 4% for suppliers located in warmer regions of the state. Some State Water Board members indicated willingness to consider greater adjustments in April. Some additional adjustments were made to broaden the method used to calculate climate data, as proposed by water agencies.
  • Growth adjustment: The final regulation provides a mechanism to account for water-efficient growth since 2013. To qualify for the adjustment, suppliers would have to provide specific data to the State Water Board by March 15. The method for calculating the adjustment was simplified by the latest changes.
  • Drought-resilient supplies credit: The final regulation allows local water agencies to apply for an adjustment of no more than 8% to their individual state-imposed conservation standard if they receive at least 1% of their total potable water production from a qualifying local drought-resilient project developed since January 2013. In order to qualify for the credit, water suppliers would have to submit required certification to the State Water Board by March 15. The definition was broadened in the latest round of changes to include agencies with “financial interest” in qualifying projects.

Monthly water production and specific reporting on residential use and enforcement would remain in effect.

The resolution accompanying the regulation was amended to include language adding “regional conditions” to the list of factors the State Water Board will consider to rescind or further amend the emergency regulation in April.

Another amendment added language describing the board’s intent to focus on a “resilience-based approach to dealing with the future” that includes water use efficiency, enhanced water conservation and “development of new sustainable supplies, such as recycling, stormwater capture and reuse, local storage to capture water in water years for use in dry years, and other actions.”

State Water Board staff indicated the adjustments would put the state on track to reduce water use in 2016 by more than 20%, compared to 2013 levels.

Cumulative water savings under the original emergency regulation totaled just over 25% through December, according to data released Feb. 2.

Next Steps and Questions

ACWA appreciates that State Water Board staff recognized the need for some adjustments and included some modifications in the final regulation. However, ACWA and water agencies will continue to advocate that the State Water Board make adjustments in April to address expected above-normal precipitation either by reducing water suppliers’ conservation standards or by rescinding the emergency regulation.

ACWA members with questions may contact ACWA Special Projects Manager Dave Bolland at (916) 441-4545 or

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