Conservation framework too complex, costly, and difficult to achieve

Conservation framework too complex, costly, and difficult to achieve

In 2018, the California Legislature passed two bills to establish a framework of making water conservation a way of life in the state. Now, the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) says those laws should be modified because they are too complicated and costly to implement.

The bills in question, Senate Bill 606 and Assembly Bill 1668, require the State Water Resources Control Board, (SWRCB) to draft policies that specifically target reductions in urban water use — the water that 95% of Californians use for drinking, bathing and watering their lawns.

In a report released last week, the LAO says the new regulations will cost the state potentially tens of billions of dollars from 2025 to 2040 and only save about 440,000 acre-feet of water — about 1% of the state’s total water use.

In California urban water use only accounts for 10% of the state’s annual water use, with 40% used by agricultural irrigation and 50% goes to environmental purposes like rivers and wetlands. To top it all off, daily per capita water use in the state has declined by 37% since 1990.

In addition to the low return on investment, the LAO found the proposed regulations create implementation challenges for water providers and “go beyond what legislation requires or DWR [Department of Water Resources] recommends.

According to the report, SWRCB’s proposed regulations add complexity, lack clarity and would be administratively burdensome to implement.

It is also concerning that the report claims these costs could disproportionately affect lower-income customers.

“To cover added costs and offset potential revenue reductions from selling less water, suppliers likely will have to increase customer rates. This could adversely impact lower‑income customers, who may have more trouble affording the increases and may have less ability to further reduce water use to compensate. Existing constitutional rules make it difficult for suppliers to offer rate assistance programs.”

So is the legislation worth the cost?

The LAO thinks so, but recommends lawmakers direct state regulators to make changes to improve the legislation and increase the likelihood that the framework’s goals would be achieved.

“These concerns do not lead us to recommend that the Legislature abandon the water conservation efforts it initiated through SB 606 and AB 1668. Rather, we think this period before State Water Resources Control Board adopts the final regulations offers the Legislature an opportunity to make some changes to simplify compliance, ease implementation burdens, and lower associated costs — and thereby help maximize the potential benefits of pursuing water efficiency improvements,” the analyst wrote.

A new draft of the proposed rules is expected be released this spring. To view the full report from the LAO, visit

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