Wide range of water experts deeply concerned over State Water Board’s move to water down urban water regulations

The California State Water Resources Control Board recently released updated draft regulations for urban water conservation. Last week, more than 100 non-profit organizations and other water advocates signed on to a statement urging California leaders to lean into conservation as the first line of defense against future droughts and unreliable precipitation patterns in this era of climate change.

The regulations were released in advance of a March 20 Water Board workshop on the topic when stakeholders will have an opportunity to offer comment on the proposed updated regulations. The public comment period closes on March 27.

Among other concerns, the updated draft regulations will result in significantly less water savings until 2040, allowing many water suppliers to delay any action on conservation for15 more years. The regulations do not reflect the governor’s commitment to helping California communities fight and adapt to climate change. This kind of delay is likely to lead to an over-investment in new, more expensive sources of water.

In response to the updated draft regulations, stakeholders issued the following statements.
 “Too many underserved communities have been unable to access the benefits of existing conservation programs,” said Kyle Jones, Policy & Legal Director, Community Water Center. “Solutions like direct installation of water-efficient appliances and drought-resilient outdoor landscaping provide multiple benefits at the community level while helping to keep water bills down for households. It’s both possible and essential to make conservation work for low-income communities and communities of color.”

“Water conservation and efficiency are the cheapest and fastest way to improve water reliability in the face of climate change,” said Tracy Quinn, President and CEO of Heal the Bay. “The delay of meaningful water efficiency standards is absolutely reckless and means that California communities will be less prepared for future droughts, which could occur as early as next year. Just two years ago, California communities were on the verge of losing access to water due to severe drought. This short-sighted change to the regulation will ultimately make our water more expensive and less reliable.”

“California has a tremendous untapped potential to reduce urban water use by 30 percent to 48 percent if we make the most of water conservation and efficiency opportunities,” said Heather Cooley, Director of Research, Pacific Institute. “And from now through 2026, water districts have an extraordinary opportunity to take advantage of funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to support these investments. Now is exactly the time for the Water Board to push to ensure urban water conservation remains a priority.”

“The State Water Board’s new proposed timelines are governed by the lowest common denominator,” said Cody Phillips, Staff Attorney, California Coastkeeper Alliance. “Instead of crafting a regulation that assists a few systems in need of help, the State Water Board has lowered the bar for everyone, leaving California vulnerable.”

“There are so many upsides to conservation. Thirty years ago, water conservation programs led by Los Angeles community groups helped save Mono Lake – one of our state’s most treasured natural areas – by reducing demand for imported water,” said Martha Davis, Board Member, Mono Lake Committee. “Since that time, water agencies in many of the state’s urban areas have doubled down on improving their efficiency, but there still is so much more they can do. California needs more conservation – not less – now more than ever. But it’s only going to happen if the Water Board keeps the pressure on.”

“Governor Newsom’s water supply strategy, Adapting to a Hotter, Drier Future, calls for at least 500,000 acre-feet of water savings through conservation efforts by 2030,” said Ed Osann, Senior Policy Analyst, NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). “Weakening these regulations will torpedo the Governor’s water initiative, leaving utilities demanding more imported water at a time when the state is facing permanent reductions in its supply from the Colorado River. California’s retail water suppliers know how to help consumers save money and water. But the State Water Board needs to set ambitious but achievable water-saving goals that align with the Governor’s strategy.”

For more information, go to conserve4ca.org.