Land Use Development: What Developers, Agricultural Operators and Private Water-Right Holders Need to Know About the Governor’s Mandatory Water Use Restrictions

April 6, 2015

On April 1, 2015, Governor Jerry Brown issued Executive Order B-29-15 imposing, for the first time in California history, mandatory water use restrictions aimed at achieving a statewide 25 percent reduction in potable urban water use compared with 2013 levels.  The Order directs the State Water Resources Control Board (“State Water Board”) to develop, impose and enforce the mandatory water reduction measures against the more than 3,000 urban water providers throughout California.  The State Water Board is expected to impose the new restrictions by mid-May 2015, establishing a different target for each agency based upon the relative per capita water usage for each agency’s service area and the agency’s conservation progress since 2013.  Therefore, depending on a property’s location and water supplier, the ability to obtain confirmation of available water to supply a new development project may be much more difficult than in prior years.

In addition to the 25 percent reduction goal for urban potable water use, the Order also includes the following new measures:

• A program requiring all newly constructed homes and buildings must use drip irrigation or microspray systems for landscape irrigation;
• A program to replace 50 million square feet of residential lawns statewide with drought-tolerant plants, equal to more than 800 football fields;
• A statewide consumer rebate program to subsidize installation of water efficient appliances, such as toilets and washing machines;
• A ban on watering ornamental lawns on public street medians with potable water; and
• Financial assistance for families forced to find new housing because they have run out of potable water.

With respect to rural and agricultural areas, the Order requires larger agencies serving more than 25,000 acres to strengthen and develop more comprehensive Agricultural Water Management Plans.  Agencies  serving 10,000 to 25,000 acres of irrigated lands are required to develop similar drought management plans and submit them to the Department of Water Resources by July 1, 2016.  The Order also provides for increased reporting on water supply and use by farmers and other agricultural water users. 

Unlike urban suppliers, agricultural suppliers are not subject to any mandatory reductions and conservation targets.  According to Governor Brown, surface water allocations for agricultural water agencies have already been significantly reduced and  many farmers supplied by water from the federal Central Valley Project have been told they will receive no water this year.  The State Water Project, which is operated by the California Department of Water Resources and also serves some agricultural users, currently plans to deliver 20 percent of typical Table A contract amounts.  In light of these existing significant cutbacks to agricultural water users, the Order's mandatory restrictions were not extended to agricultural water suppliers.  

The mandatory use restrictions do not extend to private water rights holders and well owners/users.  The Order does require more frequent reporting of water diversion and use by water right holders, and expands the Water Board’s authority to conduct inspections of private property and diversion facilities to determine whether illegal diversions or wasteful and unreasonable uses of water are occurring and, if so, to initiate enforcement actions to bring the offending parties into compliance. 

A copy of the Order is available HERE.

If you have any questions about the Order or its potential impacts, please contact Michele A. Staples or the Jackson Tidus Land Use Development Services Group.

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