New state water rules on the way

Posted: May 27th, 2016 | Features, News, Top Stories | No Comments

By Doug Curlee

But picture not as bleak as last year

Californians apparently proved something last year to the people who regulate just how much water we will be able to use this year.

A lot of people complained when Governor Jerry Brown last year laid down a stringent 25 per cent cut in urban water use. Urban is the water use category that covers what we use to water our lawns, irrigate our plants and trees and wash our cars, among other things.

We complained — but we did it. Never in history had people been forced to cut water use significantly in California. Last year, we pretty much met that goal.

31062159_l-1080x675webtopThat in turn has allowed the state to consider and issue somewhat relaxed rules for this year, leaving the responsibility for conserving water up to the local and regional agencies that provide our water.

The idea that local and regional agencies will be much more in control of our own destiny is just what the San Diego County Water Authority was hoping for, and what it got from Sacramento.

SDCWA general manager Maureen Stapleton couldn’t be happier about it.

“We appreciate the Tate Water Board’s willing ness to revise its regulation by allowing water agencies to certify the adequacy of their supplies to meet demands” said Stapleton in a press statement.

“This will allow agencies to tailor drought responses to the unique situation in each service area across our diverse state, and it supports agencies that have invested in drought-resilient supplies. By working together with water agencies, the State Water Board has charted a course that will not only help California address current drought challenges but encourage communities to continue investing in water supply reliability projects and prepare for future droughts.”

Stapleton says San Diego county is in very good shape for the future.

“In San Diego county, supply reliability investments have provided our region with enough water to meet demands even in the fifth year of drought. At the same time, water-use efficiency is a civic is a civic duty and a way of life in our region; per capita potable water use is down nearly 40 percent since 1990.”

Yes, El Niño has helped a lot in bringing about the newer, more liberal rules being laid down by the state water quality control board.

However, El Niño wasn’t the permanent fix to our water problems. It wasn’t the monster series of storms the experts said we needed to cure the drought. In fact, our drought may never be permanently cured.

But it helped.

The folks at the Helix Water District are a good case study in what we expect to happen now.

“We’re very happy about what’s going on with the state and the regional agencies these days”, said Helix spokesman Mike Uhrhammer. “The fact that local agencies like us are able to work within the framework of the San Diego County Water Authority to determine our needs and make our decisions that way should make things a lot easier on all of us, especially our customers.”

What happened? Why are most people in the water business smiling about this?

It’s simple. People got it. People understood.

“Folks got the message about saving water, and they found out it wasn’t as hard to do as they might have thought. Once people demonstrated that they could conserve, it sort of got infectious in a way.It sort of became the thing to do,” Uhrhammer said.

All of this conservation, and the decreased demand for water, is what’s motivated the state, and specifically the state water water board, to decide that some relaxation of the rigid controls put in place last year, did not necessarily have to be retained in place this year. They’ve decided that more local control is a better idea, in that local and regional boards and agencies have a better idea of how to keep water demand down than someone hundreds of miles away.

This is not to say the state is leaving everything in the hands of the locals. There will still be a state presence looming over the process, ready to step in if this somehow runs off the rails.

“Show us your situation,” said state water board chairwoman Felicia Marcus. “Come up with the conservation standard appropriate to you. We reserve the right to set one if you don’t, and we reserve the right to second-guess you.”

And the state will be watching. All local and regional agencies will still be required to file monthly reports with the state, and those reports will be read and studied constantly.

Do not, says the state, revert to your previous water usages. There are things that, legally, you will probably never be able to do again.

Don’t even think of hosing off your sidewalks, washing cars with a hose that doesn’t have a shut-off nozzle, irrigating your lawns with water that spills onto the streets, or watering grass in public medians.

The days of abundant water on demand are gone in California, probably forever.

—Doug Curlee is Editor-at-Large for the Mission Times Courier. Reach him at

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