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3.1: Regulations

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    For many years, water agencies conducted water conservation programs as public outreach. They often set goals of fairly minimal savings over long periods of time—in other words, goals that were easy to achieve. Rebates were intended to help people save water, but also make them feel good and appreciate the water agency at the same time. Meanwhile, water agencies often had their own revenues in mind. They did not want people to be wasteful with water, but they also calculated a certain demand in order to set rates. They did not want too much conservation without planning for a reduction in revenue.

    SBX7-7 changed everything. In 2009, Governor Schwarzenegger signed into law SBX7-7, the Water Conservation Act of 2009, which required retail water suppliers to determine their baseline per capita water use and reduce water use by 20% of their baseline by 2020.

    What happens if a retail water supplier misses its target? Compliance with SBX7-7 determines eligibility for state water grants and loans. Failure to meet the target establishes a violation of law for administrative or judicial proceedings. This means a supplier wouldn’t be eligible for many grants and loans that suppliers rely on to fund infrastructure, and could have legal actions taken against it.

    No doubt in 2020 some water suppliers will not meet SBX7-7 goals either intentionally or unintentionally. What will actually happen to them? Sometimes it is worth making a distinction between agencies that are making an effort and those that are deliberately ignoring the law. Some may be penalized with proceedings and some may not be because they made a good faith effort. This will be interesting to see.

    State Water Resources Control Board Mandatory Measures

    While SBX7-7 set a long-term goal of 20% by 2020, in July of 2014, mandatory measures from the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) were enacted to combat the severity of the drought. The table below walks you through the executive and regulatory decisions about the drought.

    January 2014

    Governor Brown declared a drought state of emergency.

    April 2014

    Governor Brown signed an Executive Order (April 2014 Proclamation), which asked for reductions of 20% by all Californians with an emphasis on outdoor conservation. The order prohibited HOAs from punishing homeowners who limit their watering,

    July 2014

    State Water Resource Control Board (SWRCB) asked for mandatory reductions with an emphasis on outdoor reductions.

    March 2015

    SWRCB adopted an expanded mandatory emergency conservation regulation, which prohibited:

    • Non-recirculating fountains
    • Hosing sidewalks and driveways to clean
    • Washing a car without a shut-off nozzle
    • Run-off from over-irrigating

    Water suppliers are tasked with enforcement and ordered to report data monthly to the SWRCB.

    April 2015

    Governor Brown directed the SWRCB to implement mandatory water reductions in urban areas to reduce urban use overall by 25% compared to 2013. Instructions to the SWRCB included considering relative per capita water usage of each supplier’s service area and requiring areas with higher use to cut consumption more.

    May 2015

    SWRCB adopted an emergency conservation regulation with residential gallons per capita per day (R-GPCD targets).

    January 2016

    Mandatory measures are extended through October 2016 with adjustments to R-GPCD possible for suppliers for climate and growth.

    May 2016

    Prohibited measures described above become permanent.

    Water suppliers are allowed to “self-certify” their conservation targets by analyzing their water demand (average of 2013 and 2014) and their water supply and using a target for any shortfall.

    So while SBX7-7 concentrated on long-term conservation goals compared to a baseline of total water production, the SWRCB mandatory measures concentrated on short-term conservation goals, particularly in the residential sector and particularly outdoors.

    The goals (or targets) were widely criticized for not being fair. This is usually referred to as having "equity issues." While the SWRCB separated out commercial, industrial and institutional water use and concentrated strictly on a residential water reduction, it tended to penalize the water suppliers with higher per capita consumption with larger goals. Water suppliers with higher per capita consumption tended to be inland areas with higher water demand—meaning it was simply hotter inland and the plant water needs were much greater.

    Used with permission of Castaic Lake Water Agency
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    And then the winter of 2017 was wet. In Northern California, it was unbelievably wet breaking records. In Southern California, it was slightly wetter than average. In the Santa Clarita Valley, while it "felt" like a break from the drought, you can see that Water Year 16/17 (October 2016 – September 2017) was only slightly wetter than average with around 20 inches of rain for the entire year.

    Is the drought over? Certainly, if you rely on imported water from the State Water Project, there was plenty of water in 2017. But most Southern California communities that used groundwater still found their groundwater supplies below average. For some parts of Southern California, including Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties, the drought was definitely not over. Looking at the graph above, would you say the drought was over in the Santa Clarita Valley?

    As of this writing, the State Water Resources Control Board is implementing targets by service area to include an indoor component, a landscape component, a water loss requirement, and separate measures for commercial, industrial, and institutional users.

    Building Codes

    What type of regulations govern the building of a home? In terms of water use, how does a developer decide what type of toilet to use? Or aerators to install? Or landscaping to put in? These sorts of choices are governed by layers of codes, including city, county, state, and federal. In most instances, when there are overlapping standards, the most stringent apply.

    Cal Green Building Code (2014 update)


    Water Use


    1.28 gallons per flush


    2.0 gallons per minute at 80 psi

    Bathroom faucets

    1.2 gallons at 60 psi

    Kitchen faucets

    1.8 gallons at 60 psi



    All controllers shall be weather-based or soil-moisture-based and shall have a rain shut off

    All of the indoor devices listed above have a specific flow or flush rate. This is the rate from the manufacturer and may not be the rate in real life. Toilets, for example, leak over time and may use more than 1.28 gallons per flush. Similarly, faucets have a rating at 60 pounds per square inch, but it is entirely possible to have more pressure inside a house and use more water because of it.

    Building codes are very useful in driving long-term demand downwards, primarily inside the home. In California; if there was a change to the code that forbid turf grass from being installed in new homes, demand could be driven down further outside rather than simply relying on controllers.

    Used with permission of Castaic Lake Water Agency
    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): of Castaic Lake Water Agency

    The graph above shows the savings in 2020 in the Santa Clarita Valley as a result of various measures, including incentives (rebates), plumbing code and standards, pricing and water loss reduction. Note that 9% of the savings are from conservation pricing and 25% of the savings are from plumbing codes and standards. These are powerful ways to drive demand down.

    Try It!

    Conduct a quick inventory of a bathroom at home. What can you tell about the flow rate of these devices?


    ___________ gallons per flush


    ___________ gallons per minute at 80 psi

    Bathroom faucets

    ___________ gallons at 60 psi

    1. Which type of regulation (SBX7-7, SWRCB restrictions, or Building Code) do you think will result in the most savings over time?
    2. Which measure prohibited by the SWRCB would be the most difficult for customers to prevent?

    This page titled 3.1: Regulations is shared under a CC BY license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Stephanie Anagnoson (ZTC Textbooks) .

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