Public Outrage Over Uneven Water Cutback Mandates

Shower head water droughtA cascade of new water regulations has brought the drought home to millions of residents across California, cutting into their indoor and outdoor use and, often, prompting an outcry. But the impact of the regulations, handed down at different levels of government, has become significantly uneven, sowing the seeds of further controversy as the cutbacks continue with no end in sight.

Transforming landscaping

Following on Gov. Jerry Brown’s executive order mandating swift and sustained reductions in water usage, California regulators brought yet another type of consumption to heel. “The state Building Standards Commission voted to change development rules to reduce the demand for water,” the Associated Press observed. “Developers can meet the rules by planting shrubs and bushes instead of grass or installing slow-trickling valves instead of traditional sprinklers.”

Regulators expected the decision to bring significant savings — about 20 percent less across all California lawns. “Outdoor irrigation,” noted the AP, “accounts for roughly half of residential water use.” By the middle of June, residences, workplaces, schools and hospitals will all be subjected to the new strictures.

Riparian regulations

The curbs on thirsty lawns followed fast on sharp new demands imposed on historic farms by the State Water Resources Control Board. In an unprecedented move, a group of farmers recently offered to reduce their consumption by 25 percent relative to 2013 levels. Now, regulators have accepted the plan.

“The action applies only to so-called riparian rights holders, landowners whose property has direct access to a river or stream,”reported the Los Angeles Times. “By volunteering the cuts, Delta farmers avoid the risk of being hit with even larger cutbacks mandated by state water regulators.” According to the Times, the move brought one especially precious form of relief, taking away “the threat of lengthy and divisive litigation in a time of crisis.”

But not all farmers have accepted the new status quo. Some, reported the Contra Costa Times, hired attorneys “to assert that the state is defying statutes that honor their seniority. The water board’s order exceeds the scope of the state’s authority, the lawyers contend.” Farmers complained that they were pushed to offer a deal in order to avoid Draconian, potentially devastating penalties. And the state’s order that rights claimants show proof of property ownership has touched off an angry scramble for documentation.

“To defend their place in line, senior rights holders have rushed their ancient documents to analysts in the Division of Water Rights in Sacramento,” according to the Contra Costa Times. “Who, where and what rights will be curtailed in coming weeks remains to be determined, water officials say. Cutoffs will be based on flows in the watershed — and how long rights have been held.”

Local outrage

Meanwhile, in areas where cutbacks have already been adopted, some water agencies have moved ahead with even sharper penalties for current levels of use. San Jose Water, a private company supplying much of Silicon Valley with drinking water, followed the lead of nearby Santa Cruz and mandated steep new reductions in residential water consumption. As the San Jose Mercury News reported, “the company announced it would give all single-family residences — defined as any home that has its own water meter — monthly water allocations requiring a 30 percent reduction from 2013 levels. Apartments and most businesses won’t receive them.”

One detail in particular provoked a public outcry: “The 30 percent cut isn’t based on each home’s individual use. Instead, it’s calculated on the month-by-month average of all residential users in San Jose Water’s service area.” Company officials endured an hours-long hearing that drew some 350 dismayed locals, but remained — like officials across the state — largely unmoved. “It’s not like the spigot is going to go dry,” said Palle Jensen, senior vice president for regulatory affairs, according to the Mercury News. “You can still use water. But you will have to decide how.”

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Californians Pay To Have Their Lawns Spray Painted Green

Front yard waterGov. Jerry Brown is cracking down on how much water Californian’s use in their daily lives, and that means parched lawns are turning brown as the state heads into its fourth year of drought.

In steps some savvy entrepreneurs who have a solution to water restrictions: spray paint your lawn green, don’t waste water on it. Lawn painting companies, like Xtreme Green Grass, are seeing business boom.

“I probably have about seven appointments scheduled in just the next week or so.” David Bartlett, the company’s owner, told KXTV-Sacramento.

Bartlett’s company sprays a non-toxic green dye across the brown areas of your yard, making look as if it’s been freshly watered. The service takes about an hour and costs 25 cents per square foot.

That may seem like a lot, but Bartlett says it’s way cheaper than making your lawn “drought-friendly” by bringing in new plant material. Doing that can cost homeowners several thousand dollars.

Most of California is going through an “exceptional” drought period, according to monitors, and some 37 million residents are being impacted by less-than-normal rainfall and snowpack. The Golden State saw record low snowpack this year.

In response, Gov. Brown mandated that statewide water use shrink by 25 percent, pushing for fines up to $10,000 for those who use too much water. Republicans have blamed federal and state policymakers for flushing lots of water out to sea every year because of the delta smelt — a small, endangered fish.

“For the governor to come out and say, ‘Look, we all have to now take shorter showers and kill our front lawns and stop washing our cars,’ that is not the answer,” said Travis Allen, Republican State Assembly member. “Forty percent of our water is going into the Pacific Ocean. The answer is, let’s stop sending that water into the Pacific, and let’s send it into our cities, into our homes.”

“Sacramento and Washington have chosen to put the well-being of fish above the well-being of people by refusing to capture millions of acre-feet of water during wet years for use during dry years,” U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, a Republican who represents the Bakersfield area. “These policies imposed on us now, and during wet seasons of the past, are leaving our families, businesses, communities and state high and dry.”

Originally published by the Daily Caller News Foundation

Are Californians Ready to Drink ‘From Toilet to Tap’?

Photo Credit: The International Rice Research Institute

Photo Credit: The International Rice Research Institute

Looking for an edge in coping with California’s drought, officials around the state have embarked on a public relations campaign for recycled drinking water.

Proponents of the new push hoped to capitalize on the bad publicity hitting the bottled water industry, where several suppliers have come under scrutiny for drawing their water from California. This month, “Starbucks announced that it would begin a process to move the bottling operations for its Ethos water brand to Pennsylvania,” NBC News reported. Nestle, meanwhile, refused to stop sourcing its water from public lands in the Golden State, although its pumping permit expired decades ago, and activists have petitioned the California Water Resources Control Board to halt the practice.

“The attention on Nestlé’s permit bumped it to the front of the pile for renewal review. The process will take at least 18 months, Heil said. Meanwhile, Nestlé can continue to operate in the forest as long as the company continues to pay the annual fee of $524 on the expired permit and operate under its provisions.”

Feeling the heat, Nestle Waters North America’s Tim Brown took to the San Bernardino Sun to vouch that California bottling operations should not be considered water-wasting culprits. “Our latest conservation measures include a waste-water recovery project expected to save annually 25 million gallons of water,” he wrote. “We supported the recent water bond to improve infrastructure and protect and restore watersheds and ecosystems and we believe that California’s new groundwater management legislation is a step in the right direction.”

Public skepticism

Yet, “despite the extensive science that goes into cleansing recycled water down to its molecular construction, in a recent study, 13 percent of adults said they would point-blank refuse to try it,” according to The Week. “Similar efforts in the past to jumpstart the recycled water trend in the state have failed.”

California’s long history with recycled water projects has lent credence to those who expect the pattern to continue. “Enticing people to drink recycled water […] requires getting past what experts call the ‘yuck’ factor,” as the New York Times observed. “Efforts in the 1990s to develop water reuse in San Diego and Los Angeles were beaten back by activists who denounced what they called, devastatingly, ‘toilet to tap.’ Los Angeles built a $55 million purification plant in the 1990s, but never used it to produce drinking water; the water goes to irrigation instead.”

Orange County officials, however, have brightened hopes for the recycled water movement. As Southern California Public Radiosuggested, the O.C.’s successful recycling program has underscored why “calling it ‘toilet to tap’ isn’t fair.”

“The recycled sewage water makes quite a journey on its path to purification before it comes out of faucets at home. About 2.4 million Orange County residents get their water from a massive underground aquifer, which, since 2008, has been steadily recharged with billions of gallons of purified wastewater.”

According to SCPR, Orange County Water District officials overcame the yuck factor “with a massive public relations campaign that involved more than 2,000 community presentations.”

In Santa Clara County, where recycled water has been steadily employed for non-drinking uses, San Jose’s public figures have kicked off a similar effort. San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, Santa Clara Mayor Jamie Matthews, and others held a recent press conference around their own consumption of recycled water, the Contra Costa Times reported. “‘Delicious,’ said Liccardo, as cameras clicked. ‘Good stuff!’ said Matthews, as video rolled.”

Nudging state law

At the statewide level, fans of recycled water had a bit more news to cheer as well. In Sacramento, the author of a string of recycled water-use bills stretching across the several years, Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Glendale, recently secured committee support for Assembly Bill 1463, another proposal pushing the approach to conservation. “Gatto’s legislation to help reduce the barriers for onsite-water recycling and allow more Californians to participate in safe and sustainable recycled-water practices was approved by the Assembly’s Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee on a 15-0 vote,” according to California Newswire.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

CARTOON: Western Water

Drought cartoon 1

Pat Bagley, Salt Lake Tribune

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

Tiered Water Ruling — Water Agencies Shouldn’t Make a Profit Off Homeowners

Last week the California Court of Appeal issued an important ruling interpreting Proposition 218, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association sponsored initiative approved by voters in 1996. Proposition 218 is entitled “The Taxpayers Right to Vote Act” for a very good reason. It reflects the policy that those who pay the bills for public expenditures – taxpayers – should have the final say over how much is taken out of their wallets and pocketbooks. It subjects virtually all local taxes and fees, especially those related to property, to voter or ratepayer control.

Proposition 218 was necessary because the Legislature and the courts had created loopholes in Proposition 13, the iconic California initiative that started the modern American tax revolt in 1978. While Proposition 13 was focused on property taxes, Proposition 218 was drafted to limit the explosion in other types of government exactions burdening homeowners including so-called “benefit assessments,” fees, charges and other sorts of property related levies.

What is important to note about Proposition 218, is that it did not ban property related fees but, rather, sought to return the imposition of fees like water, sewer and trash collection rates to the traditional concept of “cost of service.” Cost of service simply means what it says: The cost to a property owner for a service should not exceed government’s cost to provide that service.

In its ruling, the Court of Appeal concluded that “tiered” water rates, without being justified under “cost of service” principals, failed to comply with the constitutional mandates of Proposition 218. The lawsuit was brought by the Capistrano Taxpayers Association against the city of San Juan Capistrano for, among other transgressions, imposing water rates that were “tiered,” meaning those who used more water would be charged a higher amount per gallon.

The court ruling was immediately condemned by water agencies, state bureaucrats and even Governor Jerry Brown who decried the decision as putting a “straightjacket” on his policies to enforce water conservation. But the ruling did nothing of the sort. First, rather than saying all tiered water rates were automatically unconstitutional, the court merely stated that, whatever the methodology used to impose water rates, they must be based on cost of service.

The sin of San Juan Capistrano was its failure to justify its rate structure at all.

Second, local governments have an array of tools available to enforce conservation to deal with California’s current water shortage. Limiting landscape watering to once or twice a week; prohibitions against hosing down driveways or automobiles; rebates to homeowners and businesses to convert landscape to drought tolerate plants; water reclamation; desalination, such as the massive new project in San Diego County; and the list goes on and on.

So if water agencies have sufficient – and legal – tools available to them to incentivize conservation and deter waste, what is the basis for the shrill, over-the-top reaction to the Court of Appeal decision?  Simple. If these agencies are permitted to impose water rates divorced from “cost of service” principles, then they can generate taxpayer funds over their costs and make a “profit” from homeowners – something Proposition 218 was specifically drafted to prevent.

And in the case of Jerry Brown, he didn’t like the ruling because he is desperately searching for a revenue source for his ill-conceived “Twin Tunnels” project which, like his High Speed Rail debacle, simply isn’t ready for prime time.

There is an object lesson here. Droughts may be caused by Mother Nature, but water shortages are created by humans. California is now paying the price for not building new storage and conveyance infrastructure over the last several decades. Rather than complaining about “cost of service” requirements that are founded in common sense and rational policy, California should immediately correct the dereliction of prior political leaders and build what we need for a California in the 21st century.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

New Desal Plant in the Works at Camp Pendleton

The dramatic announcement by Gov. Jerry Brown earlier this month of a 25 percent cut in water use across much of California triggered harsh commentary in the state and across the nation over the lack of preparation by government agencies and water districts for a long-term drought. A typical focus was incredulity over a dry coastal state’s failure to embrace desalination plants, as has been done in Israel, Saudi Arabia and other arid coastal nations.

But almost none of the coverage has reflected the fact that formal, official planning has been going on for years for one of the world’s largest desal plants along the coast of the Camp Pendleton Marine base in north San Diego County. Any construction is years off, but necessary preparatory work is well under way.

The image above of a proposed desal plant there comes from a 2010 presentation by the San Diego County Water Authority. It shows how sky-high water planners are on the potential of the 17-mile Camp Pendleton coast. Attention is now focused on a site in the southwest corner of the 125,000-acre base, just north of Oceanside and about 20 miles north of the Carlsbad desalination plant that is scheduled to open in coming months.

The Carlsbad plant will be the biggest in the Western Hemisphere and is expected to produce 50 million gallons of water a day — 7 percent of the San Diego region’s needed supply.

The Camp Pendleton project would be far bigger, with desalination experts saying 150 million gallons of water a day is realistic. That would make it one of the largest desal plants in the world.

A Saudi Arabian desalination plant will produce 264 million gallons a day when its first phase is complete, Bloomberg News reports.

A 2009 San Diego County Water Authority report didn’t take it for granted that the Pendleton project’s supplies are needed. It spoke of only expanding the project to the full 150 million gallons a day “as supply and demand conditions warranted.”

After four years of drought, there’s not much doubt that California needs far more reliable water sources — especially in the San Diego region, given that local water officials have spent 20-plus years fighting with the giant Metropolitan Water District over supply and costs.

The water mega-wholesaler has long opposed San Diego’s efforts to diversify its water supply by partnering with Poseidon, a private company, to build the Carlsbad plant and by striking a deal to shift Colorado River water from agricultural uses in Imperial County to supplies for homes and businesses in San Diego County.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

CARTOON: A Thirsty California

Desert ground, texture

RJ Matson

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

VIDEO: California’s drought a man-made crisis?

In this appearance of Fox Business’ Varney and Co., “Taxifornia” author James Lacy argues the California drought is a man-made issue.