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California Enacts Sweeping New Water Laws

Last week, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a pair of bills that will shape the way water is used and conserved in California for years, if not decades to come. These two bills, AB 1668 (Friedman, D-Glendale) and SB 606 (Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys) give new powers to the State Water Resources Control Board to create and enforce water conservation targets in California, as well as shaping how local water boards will enact those targets. It is important to note that there are no initial effects on the pool and spa industry, as the per capita water quotas suggested in the bill apply to indoor water only.

However, it will be critical for the industry to be involved in what will be an extensive regulatory process to develop standards regarding the use of outdoor water. Therefore it is important to understand how these new rules will govern the actions of local water districts moving forward, and what it will mean for the future.

The most relevant of the pair of bills for the swimming pool and spa industry is AB 1668, as it covers the research and adoption of new water usage standards in California. The most important aspects of the bill are as follows:

  • Establishing a series of decreasing per capita water quotas for indoor water use, beginning with 55 gallons per capita with the enrollment of the law, 52.5 gallons per capita beginning on January 1, 2025, and 50 gallons per capita beginning January 1, 2030
  • The development and adoption of long-term standards for the efficient use of water by the State Water Resources Control Board and the Department of Water Resources on or before June 30, 2022
  • Requiring proposed guidance for the development of countywide drought and water shortage contingency plans by January 1, 2020
  • Establishing fines for water suppliers that commit outlined violations
  • Requiring that outdoor irrigated landscape meet efficiency standards equivalent to those set forth in the Model Outdoor Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance (MWELO), including those applicable to swimming pools and spas

Another critical note is that these guidelines, especially those regarding indoor and outdoor water use, are being given to the water supplier in order to meet their maximum allowed usages set forth in SB 606. While other reporting on this issue may have stated that water quotas for indoor and outdoor use were now in place for individual users with heavy fines attached to violations, that is simply not the case. These two pieces of legislation provide framework for water districts to reduce their overall water usage, ranging from broad targets to specific guidelines on how to measure and reduce consumption.

Regarding outdoor water usage, there is a key piece of language in both bills that help protect the pool and spa industry from being lumped in with the potentially damaging formulas and guidelines set forth in MWELO. The current text of MWELO does not differentiate pools and spas from ornamental water features, classifying them as “high water users” so that their size and even usage is limited in landscapes. However in both AB 1668 and AB 606, there is language that states “Ornamental water features that are artificially supplied with water…shall be analyzed separately from swimming pools and spas.” This exemption means that pools and spas may not be considered with fountains and ponds, allowing for more nuanced and holistic overviews of the ways in which pools use water.

Both AB 1668 and SB 606 are complex and far-reaching pieces of legislation that will have long lasting impacts on how water is used and managed in our state. Conservation and reduction will be the norms moving forward, and it is critical that the pool and spa industry stay on top of these changes in order to avoid being left out or unfairly targeted. The California Pool and Spa Association has been actively involved in not only the legislative process for these two bills but also the ongoing development of MWELO and other water regulations. Making the pool and spa industry’s voice is heard in the long process of updating MWELO and being an active participant in these pieces of legislation ensure that the industry will be able to continue to grow in California.

CPSA is currently the only trade association representing the swimming pool and spa industry that is active in both the legislative and regulatory processes on these important water issues. In order to protect the future of the industry in California and keep up the fight we need your support. Only a fraction of the industry are currently members of CPSA. Our membership needs to grow to maintain and support the work and expertise required to be involved in this work in the next few years. Please send this informative article to your colleagues and customers who might be confused or concerned about the new laws, and if they are not already members of the association encourage them to join. We are entirely dependent on our members for support. Please join us in keeping your business protected.