California Legislature Moves Toward More Efficient Water Use

California is one step closer to a more resilient and secure water future for our communities, environment, and economy thanks to the passage of two bills in Sacramento this week.  

The pair of bills, SB 606 by Senator Hertzberg and AB 1668 by Assembly Member Friedman, build on lessons learned during California’s recent drought, which identified significant gaps in water use data and planning and demonstrated that Californians are ready to use water more efficiently.

The bills were voted out of each house on Monday and face one more procedural vote this week before they land on the governor’s desk. Governor Brown is expected to sign both into law. Together, these bills provide a new framework for urban water use and measurement.  They:

  • Identify and cut down on egregious water waste,Require greater water efficiency than California’s current 2020 targets, 
  • Establish a new template to promote water efficiency statewide that rewards past investments in conservation and efficiency and recognizes differences in local land use and climate,
  • Advance water use data collection and transparency,
  • Require improved water management planning and reporting by both urban and agricultural water suppliers,
  • Require the Department of Water Resources to establish guidelines to help small and rural communities better prepare for future droughts,
  • Require the Legislative Analyst’s Office to study the impacts of the legislation and prepare public reports by January 10, 2024.

Next Steps

Water policy in California, with our colorful history of water wars, inevitably requires compromise. These bills had their origin in the Making Water Conservation a California Way of Life report from April, 2017 and they changed as they made their way through the legislature. There is more work to do to fully realize the goals of Governor Brown’s Executive Order that kicked off this process. Specifically, NRDC is committed to working with our partners to make further progress in two key areas: 

  • As more information is gathered pursuant to the new data reporting requirements, we’ll have information to refine the household indoor water use standard. The legislation requires the Department of Water Resources and State Water Board to conduct a study and recommend a more appropriate indoor standard based on their findings by 2021.  Most indoor water use statewide is already meeting the requirements of the legislation, as people upgrade fixtures and appliances to water-saving ones. We look forward to working with stakeholders to ensure future standards are more representative of efficient water use.
  • The inclusion of a “bonus incentive” for water suppliers providing potable recycled water undermines the equity that the framework aims to create. While NRDC supports water recycling, it’s simply not fair or appropriate to provide a “bonus” that allows some communities to use 10 to 15 percent more water than the already generous standards would permit. If we are to truly make water conservation and efficiency a way of life and ensure sufficient, reliable and affordable water for all, we must use ALL water supplies efficiently, including recycled water.  The legislation requires the impacts of these bonuses to be analyzed and, as conservation and efficiency advance, the inclusion of a potable recycled water “incentive bonus” will likely prove to be unnecessary.

NRDC stands ready to work with all stakeholders and the next administration to build on SB 606 and AB 1668. With our changing climate, we know we’re facing a future of extremes with longer and more intense droughts followed by unusually rainy periods. However, with better planning, data and improved state efficiency standards, we can move away from the boom and bust cycles of the past and stabilize California’s water supplies. Stability is good for California’s businesses, communities, and our environment. We appreciate the leadership of the bills’ authors, Senator Hertzberg and Assembly Member Friedman, and look forward to Governor Brown, who’s a proponent of using water efficiently, signing SB 606 and AB 1668 into law.    

About the Authors

Tracy Quinn

Director, California Water Conservation & Efficiency

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