Mike Rogge

Drought Update

By Mike Rogge

Capitol Update, Jan. 8, 2016 Share this on FacebookTweet thisEmail this to a friend

Governor Brown declared a drought state of emergency in January of 2014 and directed state agencies to take all necessary actions to respond to drought conditions. In April of 2015, the Governor announced the first-ever statewide mandatory conservation goal and a series of actions to help save water, increase enforcement to prevent wasteful water use, streamline the state's drought response and invest in new technologies to make California more drought resilient. The conservation goal he set was a 25 percent reduction between June 2015 and February 2016. To reach the statewide mandate, the Emergency Regulation assigned each urban water supplier a conservation tier that ranges between four and 36 percent, based on residential per capita water use for the months of July-September 2014.

Last November 13th, the Governor issued a new Executive Order that said if the drought continues through January 2016, mandatory water cuts will remain in effect until the end of October 2016. The new order allowed the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) and California Regional Water Quality Control Boards to accelerate application approvals for projects that enhance the ability of local agencies to capture water from high precipitation events for either local storage or recharge consistent with water rights. He cautioned that the winter storms are not expected to end the drought, even with El Niño poised to potentially provide heavy rains. The SWRCB could modify the current conservation rules, which call for a 25 percent reduction in urban water use if there’s strong precipitation in January, February and March.

Between August and the end of 2015 SWRCB staff convened a small group of individuals, including CMTA, representing a variety of water interests to further explore potential modification of the Emergency Regulation and to discuss long term conservation goals.

The SWRCB also held a public workshop on December 7, 2015. A number of urban water suppliers proposed further refinement to the conservation tiers to reflect a range of factors that contribute to water use. The SWRCB staff have proposed modest credit adjustments based on climate, growth and drought resistant source of supply. The staff have recommended against any adjustments for non-potable water use, groundwater use or management, isolated hydrogeologic regions, and seasonal or transient population. The staff also did not recommend providing an option for regional compliance believing it will impede timely compliance and enforcement action by the Board and has the potential to reduce individual water supplier accountability. The full recommendation can be viewed here

Comments were accepted on these recommendations through January 6th.

A December 14th National Research Defense Council (NRDC) report soundly criticized the State Water Resource Control Board’s efforts to deal with the California drought giving the State a “D” grade for stormwater capture and reuse and also for agricultural water conservation and efficiency. The Board was given a “B” grade for its urban water conservation and efficiency efforts (a primary area of concern for manufacturers) and a “B-” for water recycling and reuse.  The report made dozens of recommendations which are being reviewed by the SWRCB. We believe that SWRCB has done a lot in a short amount of time to lay a foundation for sustainable water use in the future and to accelerate a number of long-term efforts.

October was the first month that the State did not meet the 25 percent conservation target with only a 22 percent reduction. Likewise, the State also missed the goal in November with a 20.3 percent reduction; however, the cumulative rate between June (the first month of required reporting) and the end of November was 26.3 percent. The State is still on track to make its cumulative target due to significant progress made in June, July and August of last year. As of January 5, 2016 the snowpack was measured at 108 percent of normal with heavy rainfall in the forecast for the next two weeks.

While the SWRCB is expected in early February to continue the recognition of the existence of a drought, they have admitted that they will not really have a handle on the severity until late March or early April and would likely not set a further target until that time. They also have intimated that the new target will not be greater than 25 percent.

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