New CPUC Resolution on Urban Water Conservation

Yesterday the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) adopted Resolution W-5000, which requires all investor-owned water utilities in the state to provide notice to their customers of the mandatory water conservation measures adopted by the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) in its emergency regulations that became effective on July 28, 2014. The CPUC had required all Class A and B water utilities within its jurisdiction to activate Tariff Rule 14.1 calling for voluntary reductions in water use on February 28, 2014, in Resolution W-4976. Resolution W-5000 imposes further requirements.

The SWRCB regulations prohibit water users from taking any of the following actions:

  • Application of potable water to outdoor landscapes in a manner that causes runoff such that water flows onto adjacent property, non-irrigated areas, private and public walkways, roadway, parking lots or structures.
  • Use of a hose that dispenses potable water to wash a motor vehicle, except where the hose is fitted with a shut-off nozzle or device attached to it that causes it to cease dispensing water immediately when not in use.
  • Application of potable water to driveways and sidewalks.
  • Use of potable water in a fountain or other decorative water feature, except where the water is part of a recirculating system.

Violation of any of the prohibited actions is an infraction that is punishable by local law enforcement authorities through a fine of up to $500 per day.

In addition, the SWRCB regulations impose certain duties on urban water suppliers, which the CPUC has now repeated for its water companies. An “urban water supplier” is a publicly or privately owned water supplier that has more than 3,000 service connections or delivers more than 3,000 acre-feet of water per year. This is the same threshold that is used to determine which water systems must prepare an urban water management plan (UWMP). The regulations require every urban water supplier to implement all requirements and actions of that stage of its water shortage contingency plan (WSCP) that imposes mandatory restrictions on outdoor irrigation or ornamental landscapes or turf with potable water. (WSCPs are required as part of UWMPs, so the connection makes sense.)

As an alternative, a water supplier may submit a request to the Executive Director at the SWRCB for approval of an alternate plan that includes allocation-based rate structures in compliance with the California Water Code §§ 370-374 and would be superior to the standard limitation on outdoor irrigation.

All urban water suppliers that do not have an approved WSCP, and all water suppliers that are smaller than the threshold, are required to adopt requirements by August 27, 2014 that limit their customers’ outdoor irrigation with potable water to no more than two days per week or measures intended to achieve a comparable reduction in water use relative to 2013.

Under the CPUC resolution, a water utility must publish notice of the emergency regulations in the local newspaper and on their website by August 24. By September 3, they must provide direct notice to customers by mail or e-mail, which should be followed by regular bill inserts on the continuing mandatory restrictions. The CPUC also ordered all water utilities to cooperate with local law enforcement agencies in enforcement of the measures.

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