Confusion over two California water efficiency laws that took effect on Jan. 1 has arisen since a Los Angeles-based news station, KTLA, disseminated factual errors in a Dec. 31 report. The outlet incorrectly purported that, under the laws, individuals would be fined for using more than 55 gallons per day.

Legislators passed Senate Bill 606 (Hertzberg) and Assembly Bill 1668 (Friedman) in 2018 to set state water use targets for cities, water districts and large agricultural water districts. Failing to meet the targets would result in fines of $1,000 per day, and $10,000 a day during drought emergencies. The fines would apply exclusively to urban water suppliers – meaning any supplier that provides over 3,000 acre-feet of water annually, or serves more than 3,000 urban connections – not customers.

“SB 606 and AB 1668 emphasize efficiency and stretching existing water supplies in our cities and on farms,” states a California Water Board fact sheet. “Efficient water use is the most cost-effective way to achieve long term conservation goals, as well (as) provide the water supply reliability needed to adapt to the longer and more intense droughts climate change is causing in California.”

There are no specific statewide laws that require individual households to meet any specific targets, according to the Association of California Water Agencies.

Calaveras County Water District (CCWD) “currently has no water conservation mandates in place, other than the ongoing rule that water should not be unreasonably wasted,” said Joel Metzger, CCWD external affairs manager. “Customers can use water normally without fear of fines or fees being imposed by CCWD or the state.”

The 55-gallon-per-day standard for indoor use is one part of a larger, state-mandated water-use target that is being implemented over the next few years to be fully enforced by 2025, Metzger said.

The bills call for “new urban efficiency standards for indoor use, outdoor use, and water lost to leaks, as well as any appropriate variances for unique local conditions,” according to the fact sheet. “The State Water Board will adopt these standards by regulation no later than June 30, 2022, after full and robust public and stakeholder processes.”

Each urban water supplier, starting in November of 2023, will calculate its own objective based on the water needed in its service area for efficient indoor residential water use, outdoor residential water use, commercial, industrial and institutional (CII) irrigation with dedicated meters and reasonable amounts of system water loss from leaks, the fact sheet states. In determining their objectives, water suppliers will also take into account other unique local uses and credits for potable water reuse, based on standards adopted by the state water board.

“In the years to come, CCWD will be given a target water budget by the State Board that is the aggregate of indoor water use, outdoor water use and leaks,” Metzger said. “Only if the district is unable or unwilling to meet that budget would the State Board consider taking action against CCWD. Even then, the State Board has committed to working with water agencies across the state to bring them into compliance before issuing fines. As always, CCWD encourages our customers to enjoy the rich water resources this county enjoys, while always using water efficiently and avoiding waste.”

Katherine Evatt, board president of the Foothill Conservancy, a Jackson-based environmental advocacy group, voiced support for the laws, emphasizing that a localized approach makes more sense than issuing blanket water use restrictions across the state.

“Overall, we think these laws will help create a fair system for efficient water use that allows local agencies to tailor their targets to local conditions, and they’ll help prevent water waste,” Evatt said in an email Tuesday. “‘Reasonable use’ of the state’s water resources is critical for having healthy rivers and a healthy environment as well as ensuring that water is available to meet current and future urban and agricultural needs … The emphasis in the new laws is on water efficiency, not conservation. That’s better than requiring people to reduce their water use by a percentage because it’s not a one-size fits all approach. Plus, percentage reductions tend to penalize people who are already using water efficiently. Establishing local, urban water use standards is a fairer approach and it will be easier for people to understand and water agencies to promote and explain.”

Evatt added that the laws should help water agencies develop standards for outdoor use, since they require the Department of Water Resources to provide localized data on temperature, climate and precipitation to agencies.

“That’s a lot better than telling someone in hot, dry Calaveras County that they should use the same amount of water in their yard as someone in cool, wet, coastal Humboldt County, for example,” Evatt said. “So it’s a very localized approach – again, much better than one size fits all.”

The laws should also help water suppliers quantify where waste is happening in their systems, which will allow them to “better target their own efficiency programs and spend money in a way that produces the biggest bang for the buck,” Evatt said.

CCWD and CPUD conservation measures

CCWD offers rebates to customers for upgrading smart irrigation controllers, high-efficiency toilets, high efficiency clothes washers and irrigation upgrades.

As far as water conservation measures being taken on its operational side, the district is working on a number of capital improvement projects to replace aging infrastructure that is prone to leaks, Metzger said.

Although Calaveras Public Utility District (CPUD) is not considered an urban water supplier, and thus not impacted by SB 606 and AB 1668, “Our customers have been very conscious about conservation,” said Donna Leatherman, CPUD district manager in email correspondence Monday.

The district is actively enforcing its water conservation plan, is pursuing state funding for upcoming water treatment projects that include water conservation measures, and implementing a meter change-out program to help customers find leaks, Leatherman added.

“The district is proud of these efforts in the short-term and will continue to work on improving water loss, conservation and (complying with) state mandates,” Leatherman said.

For information on how to conserve water, visit ccwd.org/customer-service/water-use-efficiency.

For more information on CCWD’s rebate program, visit ccwd.org/rebate-program.

A prior version of this article stated that Katherine Evatt was the executive director of the Foothill Conservancy. The story has been corrected to reflect that Evatt is the board president of the Foothill Conservancy.

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Reporter

Davis graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a degree in Environmental Studies. He covers environmental issues, agriculture, fire and local government. Davis spends his free time playing guitar and hiking with his dog, Penny.

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