It’s a shiny new year, and looking ahead, one of the things we at WaterNow Alliance are most excited about is that 2017 looks to be the year that “conservation becomes a way of life” in the Golden State. In May, Governor Brown issued Executive Order B-37-16 elevating water conservation as a key strategy in California’s long-term plan to become water secure and resilient. But what does this mean exactly?
I was pleased to be appointed as one of several representatives from the non-profit sector to the state’s Urban Advisory Group helping take this order and craft an implementation approach. After several months of meetings where a diverse group of stakeholders brought their needs and concerns to the table, a proposal was released at the end of 2016. While still in draft form, it has left many local utility leaders, wondering exactly what it means for their utilities.
For starters, this is a big deal. While virtually all water providers have conservation programs, they are generally not a major focus. The Governor’s plan puts efficiency front and center across urban areas – establishing efficiency standards for cities and towns, time tables for eliminating leaks, and setting up consistent reporting requirements. We were also pleased to see that the plan makes commitments to technological and financial support for utilities in getting to these higher levels of efficiency. The details need to be addressed, but this is an important marker. In addition, and critically for water providers, the framework emphasizes local flexibility and retains authority for how to meet the new standards where it belongs – with local water providers.
The benefits to utilities and their ratepayers of the Governor’s plan are considerable. Urban efficiency alone has the potential to yield 3-5 million acre feet of “new” supply for Californians, and to do so more affordably than virtually all other options. As water rates continue to increase, a renewed focus on lower cost solutions are essential to ensure that California’s urban water supplies remain clean, safe and accessible to everyone.
WaterNow Alliance is in the process of developing a series of briefings for public utility leaders about the conservation proposal and what it means for them and their communities, and likely a webinar as well. We look forward to an ongoing dialogue about how to make this work for water providers and how their ratepayers can benefit as much as possible.
We believe that more resilient, sustainable communities will emerge when we invest resources in long-term conservation and efficiency. The Governor’s framework is a critical step in this direction, and a key legacy issue. As we enter an increasingly uncertain water future here, California is leading the way once again.
Cynthia Koehler is the Executive Director and Co-Founder of WaterNow Alliance. She is also a member of the Governor's Urban Advisory Group.