The transition from 2015 to 2016 has been seamless for the California Water Association (CWA) and its member companies. Actions taken during 2015 continued into 2016, and all are in concert with CWA’s strategic goals to support member companies in providing safe, reliable, high-quality water and excellent customer service; shaping the business and policy environment for the benefit of all; and strengthening CWA as the collective voice of regulated water companies.
Several of last year’s major actions and accomplishments, on which efforts are continuing in 2016, include:
- CWA’s work on extensive revisions to Tariff Rule 14.1, including Schedule No. 14.1, both of which now align the California Public Utilities Commission’s (CPUC) drought management rules and policies with emergency regulations of the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) on urban-sector water conservation. These changes enabled the investor-owned water companies (IOWCs) to reach out to customers and explain the consequences of violating water use restrictions, as well as the new mandatory reduction targets and excessive water use surcharges, through nearly 100 public meetings attended by approximately 16,000 people. Because the SWRCB extended the mandates and restrictions through October 2016, the regulated water utilities have been able to focus more on keeping customer communications fresh in 2016 rather than reinventing the drought management wheel.
- Enactment of Senate Bill 13 (Pavley) in 2015, Sustainable Groundwater Management Act Reform (Act), which removed a problematic provision in the Act requiring public agency approval for CPUC-regulated IOWCs to participate in groundwater sustainability agencies (GSAs). This law enabled CWA to reach out to state contractors facilitating GSA development to promote IOWC membership in GSAs. The law now states that these regulated public water utilities may participate as members of a GSA by agreement, as long as it does not confer additional powers on a non-governmental entity. Accordingly, CWA has provided template legal agreements to the Center for Collaborative Policy, the Consensus Building Institute and other similar entities to help facilitate the numerous GSAs being created throughout the state.
- Advocating on behalf of small water companies and their customers before the CPUC and SWRCB, especially in regard to drought management requirements, financial and technical assistance and consolidation policies. Most significantly, CWA assisted small companies with applying for drought-related grants, preparing for general rate cases and general regulatory compliance.
- CWA assisted the governor’s office in developing the statutory language needed to pass Senate Bill 88 (Pavley), which among other things, created a program under the SWRCB that mandates the consolidation of troubled, small water systems that can no longer serve high-quality drinking water (either because of drought-induced shortages or because they lack the technical, managerial or financial resources to maintain drinking water at minimum water quality standards) with larger public water suppliers that have the resources to ensure safe, reliable drinking water for customers. Under this law, in 2016, six small water systems already have been acquired by larger CWA member companies.
- CWA’s Utility Supplier Diversity Program Committee hosted two “Meet the Primes” events in Northern and Southern California in 2015 and provided input on revisions to the CPUC’s General Order 156 (GO 156), bringing LGBT business owners into the order’s scope. CWA is proud to report that IOWCs exceeded the GO 156 goal of having diverse businesses account for 21.5 percent of the utilities’ eligible procurement for the third consecutive year.
- CWA ramped up outreach efforts during 2015 through Facebook, Twitter and effective media engagement on various issues, including guest commentaries that appeared in publications and on websites as:
- Responses to articles on compliance with emergency regulations;
- Responses to articles containing erroneous information about the operations, costs, rates and ownership of IOWCs; and
- Responses to articles on the regulation of public water utilities under the jurisdiction of the CPUC.
Successful outreach continues in 2016, with growing Twitter and Facebook followers and a new guest commentary in February on the extension of the drought emergency regulations (see related article).
- The CWA-led effort in Phase 2 of the CPUC’s Balanced Rates Rulemaking (R.11-11-008) provided a practical roadmap on innovative rate design approaches and the deployment of smart water technology for customers.
- Representation on the CPUC’s Low Income Oversight Board (LIOB) and continuing involvement with customer information-sharing with energy utilities to ensure that eligible customers have access to low-income rate assistance (LIRA) programs. As a result, approximately 250,000 water customers (out of nearly 1.5 million customer accounts) are participating in LIRA programs. CWA bid a reluctant farewell to the water industry’s representative on the LIOB, Dave Stephenson of California American Water, who retired at the end of 2015 after 37 years of service to the company and the industry. We wish Dave many years of happy retirement.