Yesterday, the California State Water Resources Control Board issued a Notice of Surface Water Shortage for 2013 addressed to all “Diverters of Surface Water and Interested Persons.” In it, the SWRCB reported on the record dry and warm conditions facing the state during the past two years. The SWRCB reminded water diverters that the California water rights system allocates water in order of chronological priority, and that water shortages could lead to restrictions on the exercise of some water rights in late summer and fall of 2013. The letter included a list of suggested actions for diverters whose water rights are curtailed, such as controlling conveyance losses, improving coordination with other local diverters, conserving water and using alternative water supplies.
The UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has released a new reform proposal for water resources, entitled Water for Life. While we generally think of the UK as a relatively wet place, Defra identified a number of water challenges facing the nation, including over-abstraction from rivers and groundwater basins, point and diffuse source pollution, projected future population growth and climate change. Water for Life collects a number of more specific reform proposals to form an integrated national water policy for approximately the next 20 years.
On October 8, 2011, Governor Brown signed into law Assembly Bill No. 849, which amends California Water Code § 14877.3 related to local agency standards for graywater systems. Graywater systems allow reuse of wastewater within residences, primarily through the reuse of bathing and laundry water to flush toilets or irrigate landscapes. The current statute allows a city, county or other local agency to adopt standards for graywater systems that are more restrictive than state standards. The new amendments, which will go into effect on January 1, 2012, require a local agency to find after a public hearing that “local climatic, geological, topographical, or public health conditions … necessitate building standards that are more restrictive” and to limit the restrictions to the area where such conditions exist. AB 849 states the intent of the Legislature to encourage prudent water conservation efforts and use of graywater systems through consistency and uniformity of standards.
While this law is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, it’s a very, very modest step. Couldn’t we ask a little more from the Legislature to promote efficient water use?
Over the past decade, urban water utilities in California have sought to adopt rate structures that combine, to the extent possible, the goals of financial stability and incentives for efficient water use. This is often accomplished through shifting a relatively larger proportion of costs from fixed service charges to variable commodity rates, dividing commodity rates into multiple tiers with each tier for higher use bearing a higher rate, and disincentivizing the use of urban water supplies for irrigation. A recent California Court of Appeal case, City of Palmdale v. Palmdale Water District, Case No. B224869, tested the intersection of such rates with the primary restriction on public agency water rates, Proposition 218. The result: a moderate collision, with potential for a future pile-up.
On February 10, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) published new maps showing drought conditions across the southeastern US. States that are experiencing particular drought include Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Georgia and Florida. In all of these states except Arkansas, drought is expected to persist or worsen over the spring of 2011 and possibly beyond.Combined with the drought and possible effects of climate change are demographic and regulatory challenges facing water supplies, including population growth in the Texaplex cities (Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin and San Antonio) and litigation in federal court that is limiting access by metropolitan Atlanta to Lake Lanier.
These challenges collectively mean that the southeastern states, which only recently emerged from a multi-year drought, will need to continue developing their physical, institutional and legal infrastructure for water supplies. There is likely to be appropriate emphasis on water use efficiency, recycling, desalination, conjunctive use and interbasin transfers. Texas, Georgia and Florida are likely to be the most active. Texas has the clearest path, while both Georgia and Florida are tied up in interstate stream litigation with Alabama. Water resource managers and strategic advisors certainly are living in interesting times.