With California in a severe drought, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC or Commission) on August 14 issued Resolution W-5000, requiring the state’s regulated water utilities to notify customers about mandatory water restrictions and potential fines included in new emergency regulations issued by the State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board or SWRCB). The California Water Association (CWA), which represents the CPUC’s regulated water companies, offers the following information on the emergency regulations, the Commission’s resolution and how both affect water utility customers.

About the SWRCB Emergency Regulations

The SWRCB’s emergency regulations, which became effective July 29 and will continue for 270 days unless extended or repealed, identify four prohibited water uses and include the option of fining offenders up to $500 per violation. In its Fact Sheet issued July 29, the State Water Board emphasized that assessing the individual prohibitions, evaluating alleged violations and taking enforcement action is primarily a local discretionary action for each water utility, municipality or local water agency.

Prohibited uses of potable (drinking) water:

  • Outdoor watering that causes runoff onto adjacent property, including sidewalks and streets
  • Washing vehicles with a hose that does not have an automatic shut-off nozzle
  • Washing driveways and sidewalks, except for health and safety purposes
  • Operating a fountain or decorative water feature that does not have a recirculating system

These mandatory restrictions are part of the SWRCB’s ongoing obligation and continuing efforts to reduce water use statewide and to ensure that water providers have effective plans in place to curb wasteful use of drinking water. They serve as a stark reminder that water supply conditions are at serious levels. California is experiencing one of its worst droughts in decades, and everyone needs to do their part to conserve water.

In addition to these restrictions on customer water use, the emergency regulations impose obligations on urban water suppliers (i.e., all retail water utilities with more than 3,000 service connections), as follows:

  • These utilities must implement their water shortage contingency plans to a level where restrictions on outdoor irrigation are mandatory.
  • Those utilities without a plan, or without an adequate plan, must either mandate that outdoor watering be limited to no more than twice a week or they must implement other mandatory use restrictions that provide a comparable level of savings.
  • They must report monthly water production statistics to the SWRCB, beginning August 15, and beginning with the October 15 report, must include an estimate of the gallons per capita per day used by residential customers.

Like their larger counterparts that do not have a water shortage contingency plan to implement, water utilities that have less than 3,000 service connections are now required to mandate that outdoor irrigation be reduced to no more than twice a week. Alternatively, they can implement other mandatory use restrictions that provide a comparable level of savings.

The CPUC approved Resolution W-5000 on August 14, 2014, available on the CPUC’s website at this link. The resolution directs all Commission-jurisdictional water utilities to comply with the State Water Board’s requirements by implementing either mandatory outdoor irrigation restrictions or, alternatively, mandatory water conservation measures. The CPUC-regulated water utilities must include notice of the Resolution W-5000 implementation of either the mandatory outdoor irrigation restrictions or the mandatory water conservation measures, as required in Sections 865(b) through (e) of the SWRCB’s emergency regulation, as part of the required customer notification. This notification of customers is to be completed in two stages – local newspaper advertisement by August 24 and direct mail or bill insert by September 3.

In addition, Resolution W-5000 requires the regulated Class A (> 10,000 service connections) and Class B (between 2,000 and 10,000 connections) water utilities to track and record their progress in assisting local enforcement agencies responsible for enforcing compliance with the enumerated mandatory water use restrictions.

The Commission’s resolution and the State Water Board’s emergency regulation follow activation by the CPUC’s Class A and B companies of their existing Water Conservation and Rationing Plans, which already included the four prohibitions on outdoor water use. These plans were activated by Commission order in March 2014 and communicated to customers during March, April and May.

These actions come after a February 27, 2014 CPUC resolution requiring these larger utilities to comply with the Governor’s emergency drought proclamation and his call for a voluntary 20 percent water use reduction statewide. Investor-owned water companies activated their drought management plans and appealed to customers to voluntarily reduce their water use. Investor-owned water companies are committed to partnering with our customers conserve water, and many offer free programs and rebates to help residents reduce water use. For more information, as well as tips for conserving water at home or work, contact your local water utility.


What are CPUC-regulated water companies doing to comply with the emergency regulations?
The emergency regulations require water providers to prohibit the water waste outlined in the emergency regulations, as well as to make their outdoor watering restrictions mandatory rather than voluntary. These prohibited uses of water are already spelled out in their Tariff Rule 14.1, which serves as their Water Conservation and Rationing Plan and which were activated in the spring of 2014. As such, the regulated, investor-owned water companies with more than 2,000 service connections already ban the practices noted in the SWRCB’s emergency regulations.

As CPUC-regulated water utilities, they are implementing Resolution W-5000 by providing direct notice to all their customers, identifying the prohibited uses, explaining the potential for fines and offering educational tips to their customers on how to comply with the mandatory restrictions and engage in overall water-use efficiency best practices. Unlike the State Water Board, the CPUC required all of its jurisdictional utilities to provide direct notice to their customers, not just the defined urban water suppliers with more than 3,000 service connections.

Importantly, California’s largest regulated water utilities already have been complying with the Governor’s emergency drought proclamation and his call for a voluntary 20 percent water use reduction statewide since February, following the Commission’s direction. In fact, customers have responded to the call to conserve. Nearly all of the largest water utilities have reported decreases in water use from January to July this year compared with the same period in 2013. These reductions come on top of the substantial progress made toward meeting the state’s mandate to reduce urban water use by 20 percent by 2020. Many CPUC-regulated water companies were well on their way to meeting the state mandate before the drought.

How will the restrictions be enforced? Will investor-owned water companies issue $500 fines?
CPUC-regulated investor-owned water companies do not have the legal authority to issue criminal citations nor fine water wasters up to $500. That option remains with local law enforcement authorities. The water companies will coordinate with the local authorities by providing them the necessary information on those customers identified as violating the mandatory restrictions.

The regulated water utilities do, however, have the authority to restrict water supply, or even terminate water service to water wasters who flout the new regulations. This is a last resort, however; these companies much prefer to continue educating their customers about efficient watering practices and reducing water waste. Many of them distribute hose nozzles with shut-off valves to help residents comply with water waste restrictions. When a resident is identified as violating watering or water waste restrictions, most issue a warning by way of a door hanger notice and follow-up letters. These warnings offers an opportunity to educate residents about efficient watering and water waste practices well before the more severe actions on fining customers or turning off service would occur. They will follow the CPUC’s direction and cooperate with local municipalities and governments to consider additional enforcement, if necessary.

How will I be affected?
The emergency rules direct water providers to—at a minimum—ban wasteful practices such as runoff from sprinklers, washing a car without a shot-off nozzle, hosing down driveways and sidewalks and using drinking water in ornamental fountains that don’t recirculate. Most of California’s largest investor-owned water companies already ban such practices, and customers are unlikely to see a significant change from water waste restrictions now in place.

Will customers be allowed to wash sidewalks and driveways?
No. The new regulations allow cleaning of sidewalks and driveways with potable water only for public health and safety reasons. Public health and safety standards may be defined differently by each community. Check with your municipality for more details.

How do customers avoid runoff from outdoor watering?
Runoff onto sidewalks and streets as a result of outdoor watering of landscapes means that the sprinkler system needs to be adjusted. This could be as simple as making sure all of the nozzles are pointing directly on the lawn or adjusting the sprinkler system pressure. If a customer has a controller or timer, the settings may need to be changed to shorter watering times.

Will customers be allowed to wash their cars at home?
The new regulations allow car washing at home, but only with an automatic shut-off nozzle on the garden hose. Even better, skip the hand wash and use a commercial carwash that reuses and recycles the wash water. These types of commercial carwashes typically use less water per car than the average home car wash. Additionally the water used by commercial car washes is treated before it goes into our rivers and streams, minimizing water quality impacts instead of collecting pollutants from sidewalks and streets as with washing your car at home.

How are investor-owned water companies educating customers about the new statewide water conservation rules?
Investor-owned water companies have been working to educate customers about water conservation since earlier this year. On February 27, the CPUC passed a resolution requiring its largest regulated water utilities to comply with the Governor’s emergency drought proclamation and his call for a voluntary 20 percent water use reduction statewide. These regulated water utilities activated their drought management plans (also known as water conservation and rationing plans) and appealed to customers to reduce water use. Many used bill inserts, media outreach, advertising, direct mail and other options to educate customers.

What are investor-owned water companies doing over the long term to help customers conserve?
Investor-owned water companies are fully engaged in comprehensive, ongoing conservation programs with their customers, as outlined in the CPUC’s 2010 Water Action Plan, which identifies water use efficiency as a top priority. The state’s nine largest regulated water companies have signed memorandums of understanding with the California Urban Water Conservation Council, committing to implement their best management practices for water conservation. And they are well on their way to meeting California’s mandate to reduce urban water use 20 percent by the year 2020.

Their incentive programs to help customers use water efficiently are among the best in the state and include:

  • Consultations with trained water efficiency experts who offer tailored information on how customers can use less water at home or work.
  • Rebates for installing high-efficiency toilets and clothes washers, upgrading water-wasting sprinklers and controllers and replacing thirsty lawn with beautiful low-water use plants.
  • Free Audits at customers’ homes that analyze all the sources of water use and identify areas and uses where conservation improvements can be made.
  • Education through workshops and events, informational materials, outreach to schools and water-wise demonstration gardens.
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