After years of drought, California saw a deluge of rain and snow. As the governor lifts the drought emergency status, the Association of California Water Agencies is helping inform the next conservation policy moves.
After record winter rains and snow, California Governor Jerry Brown signed an executive order lifting the drought emergency declaration in most of the state. That was followed by the release of a long-term conservation framework report, which aims to define water conservation for California, how to achieve long-term sustainability, and what levels of efficiency the state should reach.
The Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA), which represents local water suppliers, is working with the state to ensure the framework—and resulting policy and legislative changes—will meet the needs of its various members.
“Everybody wants to raise the bar and make sure we’re using water as efficiently as possible,” Director of Communications Lisa Lien-Mager said. “But we want to make sure that the regulations and the statutes that we’re looking at are going to be workable for our water agencies and their customers so we’re not getting really prescriptive with this one-size-fits-all approach, because that just doesn’t work when you look at the diversity of the state.”
ACWA, through the work of volunteers on its State Legislative Committee, submitted a letter in December on the draft of the report, signed by 114 water agencies, making specific recommendations on how to avoid a prescriptive approach. Now with the release of the final report, working groups within that committee are reviewing and creating workable conservation concepts consistent with ACWA’s recommendations.
“This is part of the beauty of what our association is able to do because we have the statewide perspective here,” Lien-Mager said. “And bringing agencies in to the table from all over the state, we can really help provide constructive input to make this be as workable as it can be.”
Last year, California’s State Water Resources Control Board was able to roll back the mandatory water-use targets for suppliers that were in place in 2015, thanks to both improved conditions and ACWA. Agencies could instead set their own limitations on customers, based on a stress test and their ability to meet water demands.
Even with this latest announcement, ACWA expects agencies to maintain most of their anti-water waste standards—such as prohibiting watering lawns within 48 hours of rainstorm, hosing down hard surfaces, and washing cars without a shutoff nozzle—while shifting their focus to long-term sustainability methods like monitoring for leaks or replacing landscapes.
Lien-Mager explained these methods are needed as California is prone to drought and highly-dependent on yearly precipitation. “That means you always have to be planning; you always have to be investing in your local supplies because you can’t take it for granted,” she said. “You can’t count on X number of storms next year because it may not happen, so there’s never enough water to waste. You have to be super vigilant and making sure you’re making the most efficient use of the water that you have.”
In addition, water agencies themselves have been pursuing long-term conservation efforts that will result in permanent savings. This includes investing in drought-resilient projects like recycling water, improving efficiencies, cleaning groundwater basins to store water, and building desalination plants.
“While the emergency has largely ended, that doesn’t mean we are letting our guard down when it comes to using water efficiently on an ongoing basis,” Executive Director Timothy Quinn said in a statement. “Local water agencies are committed to conservation and long-term water-use efficiency as a way of life, and they have not waited for this moment to take action.”