Opinion

Affordable, reliable water for California

Water is pumped into an irrigation canal. (Photo: Straight 8 Photography)

This week the California Legislature is considering two critical water bills that will reduce water waste and improve drought planning.  Senate Bill 606 (Hertzberg/Skinner) and Assembly Bill 1668 (Friedman) deserve the legislature’s full support.

On the heels of a record-breaking drought and phenomenal water savings by California residents, Gov. Jerry Brown called upon the state to make conservation a permanent way of life.  The administration established a broad stakeholder group comprised of water agencies, business and community groups and environmental organizations to develop a fair, forward looking conservation framework for the state.

For too long the state has used arbitrary percentage cut backs – 20%, 30%, 40% — to achieve conservation without considering whether local water use was already efficient or not.

Now, more than a year later and after months of legislative give and take, SB 606 and AB 1668 will set California on the path to a more reliable, affordable water future.

These bills have earned the support of a broad and rapidly growing coalition including the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, East Bay Municipal Water District, Municipal Water District of Orange County, Inland Empire Utilities Agency, Santa Clara Valley Water District and the cities of Sacramento and  Roseville as well as the Water Reuse Association of California, California Professional Firefighters, Association of Professional Landscape Designers, water technology companies, breweries and vineyards, and the Blue Business Council (which includes companies such as Toyota and Patagonia), The Nature Conservancy, and dozens of community and nonprofit organizations.

As a former Secretary for the California Natural Resources Agency and Director of the California Department of Water Resources, I know how important both improved water efficiency and drought planning are to California’s future.  We are facing hotter and drier conditions than what we experienced in the last five years.  The only question is how we prepare for that future.

The state’s water security MUST be a top priority.  And there can be no long term security if water is being waste through leaks, and inefficient appliances and irrigation systems that throw water into the gutters and down the streets.  California’s residents understand the importance of efficient water use and recent polls show that they want the state to do more – not less – to help them reduce water waste.  These two bills will help make that happen.

As a former General Manager of the San Diego County Water Authority, I also understand the importance to water agencies of local control over water management decisions.

For too long the state has used arbitrary percentage cut backs – 20%, 30%, 40% — to achieve conservation without considering whether local water use was already efficient or not.  These clumsy and unfair requirements need to give way to better data and efficiency targets that are customized to local conditions.  SB 606 and AB 1668 will enable retail agencies to decide the most cost effective way to reduce wasteful water use putting this authority back into local hands where it belongs.

The California Legislature should vote yes on SB 606 and AB 1668 because these bills will create a fairer and more rational framework for the management of our state’s water.  It is time to stop lurching from one water emergency to the next, and to permanently stop wasting water.  California’s future water security depends upon it.

Ed’s Note: Lester Snow is a former Secretary for the California Natural Resources Agency and Director of the California Department of Water Resources. Previously, he managed the San Diego County Water Authority.


  • Paul Helliker

    Lester – you have a few water agencies listed there, but the large majority of urban water suppliers oppose this bill. Despite over a year of consistent recommendations on a responsible, reasonable way to meet the Governor’s goal of enhancing water use efficiency beyond 2009’s SB x7-7, the Administration and some legislators still refuse to address the issues that remain. As the PPIC stated in their recent report, the 2015 water conservation mandates were a “blunt instrument.” The fact is, those requirements were generally unneeded, and completely ignored the extensive investments that water agencies had made in water supply reliability – including in your former area of San Diego, via the Carlsbad desalination plant.

    Our legislation – AB 968 and AB 1654 – would continue multiple pathways to meet efficiency standards. It would also maintain the responsibility for drought planning at the local level – where it is most effective (and indeed where the legal requirement exists.) The latest revisions to the Administration’s legislation – made as recently as September 8 – still do not provide legislative oversight of the standards-setting process, which is a role that was initiated in 2009. It also fails to address the extremely expensive methodology proposed to be required to define water budgets for every individual parcel. That cost will be imposed on local water agencies under these bills. For these reasons, most of California’s urban water suppliers oppose this legislation.

  • Anonymous

    Water and Power: A California Heist

  • Paul Helliker

    AB 1668 and SB 606 both failed passage in the Legislature this year. Many water agencies, businesses and other stakeholders opposed them, because they were unnecessarily complicated and costly. As the Senate Natural Resources and Water analysis noted, there was no clear statement by the proponents concerning the problem that was proposed to be fixed by these bills. There has been much progress on urban water reliability and water use efficiency since the last major drought in 1988-92 (as evidenced by the minimal impact of the 2013-15 drought), and we should build on that diversified portfolio. Indeed, that is the approach espoused in the Brown Administration’s Water Action Plan.

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