Recent Drought History and Related Legislation
On July 15, 2014, in response to the driest three-year period of precipitation statewide, California’s State Water Resources Control Board implemented emergency regulations designed to limit outdoor irrigation and eliminate water waste. On March 27, 2015 the SWRCB announced additional emergency regulations, and on April 1, 2015, Governor Brown issued an Executive Order calling for statewide water use reductions. SWRCB announced new statewide conservation measures which were implemented by the Office of Administrative Law on May 18, 2015.
California entered its fifth year of historic drought in 2016, and on February 11, 2016, SWRCB extended restrictions through October 31, 2016 due to ongoing drought conditions, while providing water suppliers more flexibility in meeting their conservation requirements. SWRCB recognized the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant as a drought-resilient water supply and reduced the state-mandated targets for conservation by 8 percent region wide. This reduced OMWD’s mandatory reduction from 32 percent below 2013 usage to a 24 percent decrease effective March 1, 2016.
On May 9, 2016, Governor Brown signed Executive Order B-37-16 ordering the State Water Resource Control Board to adjust emergency water conservation regulations through the end of January 2017, and to permanently prohibit practices that waste potable water.
On May 18, 2016, the State Water Resources Control Board adopted an emergency regulation that called for water agencies to self-certify their conservation target based off a supply and demand approach, accounting for three years of future drought conditions. San Diego County Water Authority, the region’s wholesaler and source of 100 percent of OMWD’s potable water supply, determined that local supply would meet regional demand based on this data and underlying analysis. OMWD self-certified as a regional group with SDCWA’s member agencies for a conservation standard of 0 percent.
At its July 20, 2016 meeting, OMWD’s Board of Directors unanimously approved moving out of a Level 2 Water Supply Shortage and into a Level 1 Water Supply Condition. In addition, the board approved moving from Level 2 water rates to Level 1 water rates, effective with the July 31, 2016 bills.
On November 30, 2016, state agencies released a draft report addressing elements of Governor Brown’s Executive Order B-37-16. The order requires five state agencies to develop a framework for water use in California. The public agencies consist of California Department of Water Resources, State Water Resources Control Board, California Energy Commission, California Public Utilities Commission, and California Department of Food and Agriculture. The draft plan proposes long-term regulations to reduce water use in California that include adopting permanent water use restrictions, setting water budgets for agencies regardless of local water supply, and reducing the use of recycled water.
In February 2017, OMWD advised California’s State Water Resources Control Board to allow drought-related emergency regulations to expire. Despite the advice of OMWD and agencies across the state including regional water wholesaler San Diego County Water Authority, SWRCB unanimously approved renewal of the existing drought emergency regulation for an additional 270 days, continuing statewide water use restrictions and extra monthly reporting requirements for water agencies.
On April 7, 2017 Governor Brown rescinded California’s drought-related state of emergency for most counties in light of improved hydrological conditions. Though putting an end to the declared emergency in our region, Governor Brown still called for all Californians to “make conservation a way of life.”
The news was welcomed by Olivenhain Municipal Water District, which had certified to the SWRCB in 2016 that it had sufficient water supply to meet demands even if it experienced three consecutive years of drought conditions. Since that time, California experienced one of its wettest winters on record, replenishing reservoirs across the state.
On May 31, 2018 long-term water use efficiency bills SB 606 and AB 1668 became law. Retail water agencies including OMWD will be required to meet an annual water use objective based on residential indoor and outdoor consumption, commercial water use, and water loss, regardless of regional water supply or hydrologic conditions.
As the state moves toward permanent water use restrictions and statewide drought-response measures, OMWD will continue our leadership role in advocating for customers. Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach to drought response, it is imperative that water agencies retain local control of water management as they are best suited to determine actual supply and demand conditions and effective reduction measures. It is also critical that recycled water is exempt from future demand reductions as ratepayers have already made significant investment in developing this alternative to potable water, which is the ultimate form of conservation.
OMWD encourages customers to join the conversation by sending comment letters to the state as possible state mandates may cause undue burden on water agencies, increasing costs that will ultimately be borne by ratepayers.