HomeCity NewsCritics Knock Proposed State Water Statutes 

Critics Knock Proposed State Water Statutes 

State water regulators are one step closer to cementing new conservation rules for California cities, a move that will define how Burbank Water and Power grapples with water supply constraints over the next two decades.

The State Water Resources Control Board released updated draft regulations for urban water conservation Tuesday, signaling that the state will implement “water budgets” for local agencies such as Burbank Water and Power.

California has historically experienced large swings between dry and wet weather, and because of climate change, those seasonal differences are becoming more severe, according to the State Water Board. Hotter and drier periods that are increasing in frequency, reduced snowpack and drier soils are making state water supplies more vulnerable.

As part of the state’s strategy to expand storage, develop new water supplies and promote more efficient water use, the proposed regulation would require suppliers to annually calculate their “water objective,” using a state-defined formula. Any overuse would result in fines or other consequences for the local agency.

The Water Board’s Tuesday draft included changes to the regulation, including a deadline extension for water agencies to reach conservation targets, a move that conservation advocates said would result in significantly less water savings until 2040, allowing many water suppliers to delay any action on conservation for 15 more years.

“The State Water Board’s new proposed timelines are governed by the lowest common denominator. Instead of crafting a regulation that assists a few systems in need of help, the State Water Board has lowered the bar for everyone, leaving California vulnerable,” an attorney with water conservation nonprofit California Coastkeeper Alliance, Cody Phillips, said in a statement.

The new rules would push back implementation of the policy to 2027, giving water agencies like BWP time to implement changes. The strictest water-use restrictions won’t kick in until 2040, though moderately strict limitations will be imposed in 2035 and relaxed cutbacks will be the norm until then.

Burbank Water and Power officials said they share California’s goals of increasing water efficiency and water conservation, adding that they appreciate the timeline extension, which will allow the agency to meet outdoor watering standards.

“While Burbank Water and Power continues to evaluate the new rulemaking and its impacts to Burbank, we have concerns about conflicts with the reporting requirements and the cost of implementing the rule,” said Richard Wilson, BWP assistant general manager of water systems. “However, we are committed to working hand-in-hand with our state partners to find effective water conservation policies while continuing to provide safe, reliable, and affordable drinking water to the Burbank community.”

Since 1970, the city of Burbank has cut its water use in half. In 2008, Burbank introduced its water use ordinance. Since then, the city has made strides in water conservation, especially recently, according to figures gathered by BWP.

Over the last 12 months, the city has reduced average water use by 18% as compared to the same 12-month period in 2020.

“Our residents have done a fantastic job curbing water use and complying with our sustainable water use ordinance,” said Wilson. “Burbank Water and Power is currently doing community outreach in preparation for an updated water use ordinance that will help to further reduce water use in Burbank.”

As it stands, that ordinance would seek to curb outdoor watering in phases based on the severity of water supply constraints.

Depending on how effectively Burbank can mitigate water shortages, watering could be limited to anywhere from zero to three days per week, pending water levels. Failure to comply with Burbank’s watering rules could result in a fine. Fines are $100 for the first violation, $200 for the second violation, and $500 for every violation thereafter.

Last week, more than 100 nonprofit organizations and other water advocates signed a statement urging California leaders to lean into conservation as the first line of defense against future droughts and unreliable precipitation patterns, not infrastructure investments.

“The delay of meaningful water efficiency standards is absolutely reckless and means that California communities will be less prepared for future droughts, which could occur as early as next year,” said Tracy Quinn, president of water conservation nonprofit Heal the Bay, in a statement. “Just two years ago, California communities were on the verge of losing access to water due to severe drought. This short-sighted change to the regulation will ultimately make our water more expensive and less reliable.”

First published in the March 16 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

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