Permanent Water Rationing is Coming to California

Shower head water droughtHave you experienced water faucets that spray tiny jets of water onto your hands? You know, those eight tiny jets of water, each about 1.0 millimeter in diameter, that are emitted with so much pressure that the paltry quantity of water bounces off your skin before you can get it wet enough to apply soap, and makes rinsing the soap off nearly impossible? You can find these water faucets in airports and other public places, where they constitute a minor annoyance. But wait. Thanks to California’s state legislature, they’re on their way into your home.

You’ll just love your personal space filled up with these expensive gadgets. For example, these faucets will probably require voice-activation, turn off after ten seconds, and send a report to your utility in order to help you manage your usage patterns. Smart faucets. Smart washers. Smart dish washers. Smart shower heads and smart toilets – all coming your way, thanks to the California State Legislature and their partners, the scarcity profiteers of Silicon Valley.

You’ll love how all these water-sipping, next-generation durable goods can go “down,” get hacked, don’t work very well, and require annual warranty payments. You’ll also love purchasing bargain basement annual software upgrades, but only affordable, barely, if you join their green team club for life special VIP program. You’ll love how the control panel on your washer will look like the bridge of a starship, and can only be operated after you’ve mastered the virtual version of a two-inch thick instruction manual.

California’s ruling coalition of government employee unions, extreme environmentalists, and high-tech billionaires are at it again, this time with a water conservation bill, AB 1668, that is going to impose a mandatory limit of 55 gallons per person per day on indoor water consumption. Bring on the gadgets.

To put the impact of this bill into perspective, consider what it would cost to retrofit a household to reduce indoor water consumption:

COST TO RETROFIT A HOME TO REDUCE WATER CONSUMPTION

cost-to-water-retrofit-home1

The biggest cost on this table is the cost for a tankless water heater or a hot water circulation system, necessary if we don’t want to waste water while waiting for it to get hot. Because there’s no good solution to that problem, this is a significant source of water waste that is blithely ignored by water conservation activists. It’s reasonable to expect people in a developed, wealthy nation like America to wait until they have warm water before washing their hands, shaving, hand washing dishes, or showering. And there is no way a person is going to bring their indoor water usage down to 55 gallons a day without either performing all these tasks with cold water, or by installing a system to deliver instant hot water.

But if every Californian did their best to comply with AB 1668, could they reduce their water usage to 55 gallons per day? The next table shows how much they could save, using USGS data. Please note the USGS data is for America, not for California, where decades of conservation incentives have already yielded tremendous reductions in use. Per capital indoor water use in California isn’t anywhere near 139 gallons per day. More on that later.

PER CAPITA POTENTIAL WATER SAVINGS USING WATER EFFICIENCY APPLIANCES

per-capita-water-savings2

Apart from water efficient toilets which save water and don’t require lifestyle changes, there’s not much here that isn’t expensive and inconvenient. Notwithstanding the fact that Silicon Valley moguls are salivating over the prospects of subsequent mandates that will require all these retrofit appliances to be “smart,” they aren’t going to make life better. Low flow shower heads require longer duration showers, especially if you have to rinse shampoo out of long hair. Consumer reports offer mixed reviews on low water consumption dishwashers and washing machines. Some of us like to wash our dishes by hand – in many cases because it’s less time consuming. And who wants to pull wet clothes out of side loading washers? As for waiting for hot water to make it to faucets, there’s no inexpensive and effective solution.

Enforcing the 55 gallon indoor limit will also be costly not only for California’s residents, but for every water utility in the state. After all, to regulate indoor water consumption, you have to measure indoor water consumption separately from outdoor water consumption. And, of course, residential outdoor water consumption is also in AB 1668’s cross hairs. To accomplish this, AB 1668 calls for dedicated outdoor water meters, separate from indoor water meters, and it calls for water utilities to prepare a water “budget” for each customer parcel based on the size of the parcel and other factors such as the local climate.

THE COST/BENEFIT OF RESIDENTIAL WATER RATIONING

Since AB 1668 proposes to effectively ration residential water consumption, at staggering expense, it’s worthwhile to explore the cost and benefit of this policy. If we assume that five million of California’s 12.5 million households still have legacy appliances, just the retrofit would cost these unlucky homeowners $37.5 billion. But it doesn’t end there, because the water utilities would have to install indoor/outdoor meters on around 10 million households (some households are in multi-family dwellings with no yard or a shared yard). Assuming the cost to install these meters and conduct site visits to assign individual outdoor “water budgets” at $1,000 per household means another $10 billion will have to be spent – i.e., implementing AB 1668 will cost $47 billion.

But how much water would actually be saved, for $47 billion? According to the most authoritative study available on current indoor water consumption, the average Californians uses 62 gallons per day. (ref. California Water Plan Update 2013 Chapter 3, page 12, 1st paragraph “Indoor Residential.”) This means that if California’s 40 million residents got their indoor water use down to 50 gallons per day from 62 gallons per day, it would save 537 thousand acre feet per year (0.54 million acre feet). This is a minute fraction, less than 1%, of California’s total water diversions for environmental, agricultural, and urban uses.

AB 1668 is not about saving water. It’s about control. It’s about power and profit for special interests. Otherwise we could just expand sewage treatment plants, which we should do anyway. How can you waste indoor water if it can go down the drain, to be treated and pumped right back up the hill for reuse?

Let’s keep this in perspective by imagining best case scenarios whereby indoor and outdoor residential water use is dramatically reduced. If Calfornia’s 40 million residents reduced their household water consumption by another 20%, it would only save 0.74 million acre feet per year. An impossible 40% reduction? Savings of 1.5 million acre feet per year. For one-tenth the cost, the proposed “off-stream” Sites Reservoir could easily capture over 2.0 million acre feet each year in storm runoff. Just one good storm dumps ten times that much water onto California’s watersheds.

TOTAL ANNUAL WATER SUPPLY AND USAGE IN CALIFORNIA

water-usage-CA

So what could Californians do instead with $47 billion? We’ve looked at this before. Limiting ourselves to water infrastructure, here’s a list:

WAYS TO CREATE WATER ABUNDANCE IN CALIFORNIA

First of all, market-based incentives can eliminate water scarcity at almost no cost. For example: Allow farmers to sell their water allotments at market rates without losing their vested rights. Or permit utilities to engage in mild price hikes that encourage people to use less water, instead of resorting to punitive tiered pricing or rationing. These alternatives, to some extent, have already been tried. They work. But if you accept the premise that increasing the absolute supply of water in California is desirable – here are the capital costs for water infrastructure that would create water abundance in California for decades to come.

  • Desalinate 1.0 million acre feet of seawater  –  $15 billion.
  • Reclaim and reuse 2.0 million acre feet of sewage  –  $10 billion.
  • Build the Sites Reservoir for off-stream storage of 2.0 million acre feet of run-off  –  4.4 billion.
  • Build the Temperance Flat Reservoir for 1.3 million acre feet of storage  –  3.3 billion.
  • Aquifer recharge to store runoff – there isn’t even a good study exploring this option at a statewide level.

As can be seen, all of these water infrastructure projects could be built for $32.7 billion. They could be financed via infrastructure bonds, increased rates to consumers, redirection of funds currently being squandered on high-speed rail, or even redirection of proceeds from carbon emission auctions.

What California’s ruling junta prefers, however, is to create a surveillance state defined by expensive scarcity. In the 1950s and 1960s, California’s legislature approved and implemented what remains the finest system of inter-basin water transfers in the world. But today, after over 30 years of neglect, at the same time as California’s population has doubled, California’s water infrastructure is crumbling at a time when it should be expanded. The reasons for this are plain enough. Special interests have replaced the public interest.

THE SCARCITY PROFITEERS

Instead of building water infrastructure to increase supplies of water, public employee unions want to see tax revenues pour into their pockets and into the pension funds. High-tech billionaires want contracts to build “smart” appliances and monitoring systems to enforce water rationing. Extreme environmentalists, and the trial lawyers who get incredibly wealthy representing their organizations, want more legal bases upon which to file lucrative lawsuits. Sadly, major corporate agribusinesses often acquiesce to this abuse of residents because they’ve decided that a bigger slice of a smaller pie is all they can hope for from this legislature.

Until Californians realize there will be no end to these encroachments on their freedom and prosperity until they resist, California’s ruling junta will prevail. California will be a harder and harder place to live. If ordinary Californians value their freedom, they will form a coalition with farmers, energy companies, civil engineering firms, and construction unions to demand water abundance. They may rediscover the vision and leadership that built a water infrastructure that is still one of the wonders of the modern world.

REFERENCES

Assembly Bill 1668, “Water management planning” Text (Source: California Legislative Information)
https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billCompareClient.xhtml?bill_id=201720180AB1668

Residential Water Use in California:

Water Saving Potential of water-efficient appliances (Source: USGS)
https://water.usgs.gov/edu/activity-percapita.php

California Water Plan Update 2013 Chapter 3 – Urban Water Use Efficiency
http://www.water.ca.gov/calendar/materials/vol3_urbanwue_apr_release_16033.pdf

Cost to purchase and install various water-saving appliances:

Cost (including installation) for a tankless water heater
https://www.bankrate.com/personal-finance/cost-of-tankless-water-heater/

Cost (including installation) for a water efficient dishwasher
https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/news/2015/04/dishwashers-that-save-water-energy-and-money/index.htm

Cost (including installation) for a water efficient clothes washer
ps://www.homeadvisor.com/cost/kitchens/install-an-appliance/

Cost (including installation) for a low flow toilet
https://www.remodelingexpense.com/costs/cost-of-low-flow-toilets/

Total precipitation in California during wet, average, and dry years:

California Water Supply and Demand: Technical Report
Stockholm Environment Institute
Table 2: Baseline Annual Values by Water Year Type and Climate-Scenario (MAF)
http://sei-us.org/Publications_PDF/SEI-WesternWater-CWSD-0211.pdf

California water use by sector:

California Water Today
Public Policy Institute of California
Table 2.2, Average annual water use by sector, 1998–2005
http://www.ppic.org/content/pubs/report/R_211EHChapter2R.pdf

California urban water use by sector:

California Dept. of Water Resources
2010 Urban Water Management Plan Data – Tables
Download spreadsheet “DOST Tables 3, 4, 5, 6, 7a, 7b, & 7c: Water Deliveries – Actual and Projected, 2005-2035”
http://www.water.ca.gov/urbanwatermanagement/2010_Urban_Water_Management_Plan_Data.cfm

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Water-wasting fines of $10,000 proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown

As reported by the San Jose Mercury News:

Waste California’s water, risk a $10,000 fine.

Residents and businesses could soon face that threat after Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday unveiled legislation that would increase potential penalties on the most flagrant water scofflaws and allow cities, counties and water districts to issue fines without having to go to court.

“As this drought stretches on, we’ll continue to do whatever is necessary to help communities save more water,” Brown said after meeting with California mayors, including San Jose’s Sam Liccardo and Oakland’s Libby Schaaf.

But whether the proposal — which would boost maximum fines 20-fold from the current $500 — will ever take effect was unclear Tuesday.

Click here to read the full article

Harshest water conservation targets unveiled

As a closely-watched court ruling threw California’s tiered water pricing system into disarray, the Water Resources Control board made public its latest and harshest conservation targets for municipalities across the Golden State.

Detailing the plan, MarketWatch reported that “Angelenos must save another 16 percent for the year ahead, the water board said,” despite saving over 9 billion gallons, or 7 percent, over the previous year:

“By comparison, San Francisco lowered its water usage (22,351 gallons per resident) between June 2014 and February 2015 by more than 1.6 billion gallons, a saving of 8 percent from the same period a year earlier. As such it has just an 8 percent target water reduction for the 2015-2016 period, the state said.

“San Diego, which depends on water imported from outside of the city for 90 percent of its usage, must cut back on demand in the next year by 16 percent, the state water board said.”

Meanwhile, the 4th District Court of Appeal in Orange County sided with a challenge to the constitutionality of San Juan Capistrano’s tiered water pricing system. As the San Jose Mercury News reported, the court held that tiered rates “violated voter-approved Proposition 218, which prohibits government agencies from charging more for a service than it costs to provide it.”

A blow to Brown

For Gov. Jerry Brown, the ruling was an instant headache. He had recently issued an executive order, The Los Angeles Times noted, “directing water agencies to develop rate structures that use price signals to force conservation.”

In a prepared statement issued by the governor’s office in the wake of the ruling, Brown did not shy away from making his frustration plain. “The practical effect of the court’s decision is to put a straitjacket on local government at a time when maximum flexibility is needed,” he said, invoking a bottom-up view of political efficacy most often associated with Republicans. “My policy is and will continue to be: Employ every method possible to ensure water is conserved across California.”

Making waves

As CalWatchdog.com previously observed, the sweeping ramifications of the case put regulators and cities on edge. Providers could fall back on technicalities to make increased consumption more costly — charging more for water drawn from certain areas, for instance — the bureaucratic challenge involved in finding and implementing workarounds could be substantial. According to the Times, experts surmised that between two-thirds and four-fifths of water agencies in California charged tiered rates for usage.

Especially in Southern California, the ruling has thrown a monkeywrench into major plans for an overhaul of the tier system. “The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power currently uses a two-tier rate structure, but agency officials have said they are preparing to roll out a revised system that would employ four tiers and that would make high water use even more costly than it is now,” the Times reported.

Tim Quinn, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies, told the Sacramento Bee that the ruling was currently under legal review by attorneys. But plaintiffs’ attorney Benjamin Benumof told the Bee that, on their view, government could effectively promote conservation by, for instance, increasing rebates for low-flow appliances and devices.

A turn to penalties

An approach utilized in Santa Cruz offered perhaps the quickest option for municipalities straining to meet new standards without tiered rate pricing. There, the Mercury News reported, the city’s recently reinstated mandatory rationing program hits high users with a flat $50 fee per “unit” of consumption in excess of 11 units:

“That fee, which sent some water guzzlers’ bills skyrocketing, will not be affected by Monday’s court ruling, however, said Rosemary Menard, Santa Cruz’s water director, because it is clearly labeled a “penalty” in the city ordinance, and is not used to pay for daily operations of the water system.” 

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

California Cannot Conserve or Over-Regulate Way out of Drought

This week Governor Jerry Brown proclaimed that “a historic drought calls for unprecedented action,” when handing down the latest executive order instating mandatory statewide water restrictions aimed at conserving 1.5 million acre feet of water over the next nine months.

This ambitious “first-time-in-state-history” action and goal is admirable, one I wish can be achieved. But do more laws or in this case, a set of 31-point executive directives, create or even free up more water?

ResevoirA suggested goal of 20 percent reduction of water use last year was never achieved, despite gallant efforts made by communities statewide.

So now, well into the fourth year of drought, the governor now ups the ante with a 25 percent statewide conservation mandate. In doing so, he has opened the door for a myriad of programs, restrictions and regulations to be administered by the bureaucratic, increasingly powerful and gubernatorial-appointed State Water Resource Control Board (SWRCB).

Heat index charts and pictures of empty reservoirs and barren Sierras emphasize the need for all of us to conserve; respecting the resource and what it does in our lives remains essential.

But the ongoing preoccupation on the rules, rule breakers and potential punishment is nothing more than a distraction. While treating the symptoms of drought are important, what must really occur is a concerted effort to cure the disease – in California this means dilapidated infrastructure, undersized reserves, ineffective water policy and dysfunctional, non-scientific environmental regulations.

What is certain is that Governor Brown’s latest executive order clearly expands the authority of the SWRCB over all surface and ground water use, health, data, movement, pricing, program enforcement and punishment. Regional and community water authorities are now left scrambling to develop as yet unknown compliant water management criteria to avoid unknown penalties. But the most powerful tool for the SWRCB lies in its authority to determine beneficial use. This means the board gets to decide what water can be used where, when and how on a case by case basis.

The order imposes requirements on farm water users; ratcheting up farm water use reporting mandates, the failure of which is punishable by the state.

Suspending reality, environmental activists issued statements slamming the order for exempting agriculture from 25 percent conservation requirements. They ignore the fact that farmers have been hit hard repeatedly over the past four years and have met their conservation requirements.

Receiving zero percent of their water right last year, on farm conservation practices implemented during this historic drought included:

  • Fallowing approximately 800,000 acres of fields
  • Downsizing 17,100 employees
  • Increasing consumer prices on domestic produce by estimated 10-25 percent, and taking a 4% loss in production value.

Asking a farmer to conserve 25 percent of zero, while you can’t figure out what day to turn your sprinklers on, , is an insult to your intelligence, not theirs.

Zero from zero is zero.

All these orders and actions are like the proverbial image of rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. You can’t put a bandage on a gashed jugular and expect to survive. Our crisis won’t be avoided by conserving, we must tackle the problem head-on if California is to provide equitable and reliable water supplies to families, farms and fish.

The real question is “what kind of future does California want to have?” One that continues the tradition of the last century, fostering innovation and growth or one that says the Golden State’s glory days are past, so simply maintain status quo. Establishing water supply reliability provides opportunity for prosperity and growth for all.

True power doesn’t come from regulation, but from solutions and commonsense.

To provide an equitable and reliable clean water supply to all water users – farm, urban and environmental – the state and federal officials must address:

1)    California’s grossly dilapidated and inadequate water infrastructure statewide – including storage, recycling, and access,

2)    Revamp our 50-year-old water and environmental protection policies to accurately identify and address our 21st century concerns. We need to employ 21st Century science, technology and modeling tools to achieve attainable and sustainable results for the health of all California.

Conservation and regulation sound good at a press event. But the reality is those approaches are woefully inadequate at solving California’s root problems.

Aubrey Bettencourt is Executive Director, California Water Alliance

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily